Utah Jazz owner and philanthropist Gail Miller was running between meetings when she heard the news from Washington D.C.
A colleague had told her she would be receiving a congressional award honoring her work with young people.
Miller thought the idea was far-fetched. “I didn’t even know much about the award, I never expected it,” she told The Associated Press this week.
In June, Miller will receive The Horizon Award, which recognizes humanitarian leaders in the private sector. The Congressional Award National Board of Directors announced their decision May 12.
Previous recipients include singer Mariah Carey, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“To be honored in a group like that, I just thought, ‘Wow,” Miller said.
Miller has owned the family’s car dealerships, movie theaters and the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz franchise since the death of her husband, Larry H. Miller, in 2009.
Forbes magazine estimates Miller’s net worth to be $1.5 billion, making her the richest woman in Utah.
Her husband’s legacy appears everywhere in the valley – the NBA arena, a college campus and various buildings. In the wake of his death, Miller has sought her own mark, strengthening the business’s philanthropic arm and championing education, homelessness and family causes.
She presides over the Larry H. Miller Education Foundation, Larry H. Miller Charities, and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, which support a wide range of charitable efforts.
In 2017, she pledged to match dollar-for-dollar up to $10 million of donations to help fund homeless resource centers in Utah. The Larry H. Miller Education Foundation has granted scholarships to more than 3,000 students around the country.
Miller said the ability to improve others’ lives drives her success. “Whatever you do for someone else always comes back to you, but there’s also joy is in seeing what you can do to help other people,” she said.
Paxton K. Baker, chairman of the Congressional Award National Board of Directors, praised Miller for her selfless nature and community outreach.
“Her life’s work serves as an extraordinary example for our nation’s youth, particularly young women,” he said in a statement Sunday.
Miller hopes the award encourages young people to be more giving and invest in their education. “Learning and giving makes us stronger and shows the world you are thinking of something besides yourself,” she said.