Retired state education commissioner Richard Mills dies

Richard Mills at a visit to Draper Middle School in 1997.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTORichard Mills at a visit to Draper Middle School in 1997. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Richard Mills, a Clifton Park resident who served as the New York State commissioner of education for more than a decade, died Wednesday while hiking in the Adirondacks.

Mills, 73, served as education commissioner for 14 years. Reached by phone Friday, Mills’ wife, Judy, said he died from a heart attack while hiking with a friend.

“He was just an all-around good person,” Judy Mills said. “He was a good husband and a good caretaker.”

Mills had a constantly-evolving career in education that spanned multiple states.

Starting as a history teacher, he helped found the Elizabeth Seeger School, a small private school in New York City, in 1971.

Mills was also the education commissioner for the State of Vermont from 1988 to 1995. Prior to that, he was a special education aide to then-New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean. He was commissioner in New York State from 1995 to 2009.

Mills was known for putting an emphasis on finding ways to challenge students that went beyond standardized tests, and for advocating for increased education funding.

He was described an avid outdoorsman who was highly involved with the local community. He loved to go camping, Judy Mills said, and she went with him as often as she could. He was also a highly active member of the Christ Community Reformed Church in Clifton Park. She said being married to Richard was as interesting as it was fulfilling.

“Rick will be remembered for his high ethical standards, his decades of public service, and most importantly, for his unwavering commitment to the millions of schoolchildren for whom he felt personally responsible,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in a prepared statement. “Rick was firm in his belief that every student, with the proper support, is capable of reaching high standards, and he worked tirelessly to ensure they received that support.”