Nancy Millner

A Tribute to Nancy Millner

The last few lines of Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes read:

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up by simply having visited this world.

Nancy Millner did not “simply visit this world;” she made a profound impact on the psychological and spiritual growth of many individuals in and outside of the Richmond community. To me, she was “spiritually advanced,” a phrase I once heard Phyllis Theroux use. Nancy was a seeker and a doer; she opened doors for many people through her counseling and the many organizations with which she was involved, including Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond Women’s Resource Center, the Association for Psychological Type, the Richmond Society for Jungian Psychology, The Educational Center in St. Louis, Union Theological Seminary, First Presbyterian Church, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Nowhere did Nancy’s determination and love manifest themselves more than in The Chrysalis Group, which came into being on January 20, 1994. Nancy formed a board of directors consisting of herself (president), Bill Arnold (vice president), Barbara Outland (secretary), and B. Millner (treasurer), with support from ten others who comprised a board of advisors.

On June 25, 1994, Chrysalis held its christening event, “Walking a Sacred Path,” led by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, Canon for Special Ministries of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and initiator of Labyrinth activities in the United States.

In a May 1994 letter, Nancy described Chrysalis as “a nonprofit association to provide opportunities for people seeking psychological and spiritual growth.” She went on to say, “More than a place, Chrysalis seeks to provide a creative context in which diverse people will be offered opportunities and the freedom to become seekers and to explore the unfolding meanings and purposes of their lives.”

Nancy led Chrysalis as its President from 1994 to 2000. During that time, she brought many gifts to Chrysalis—gifts she continued to contribute as an emeritus Board member until her recent death. One such gift was Nancy’s relentless push to keep Chrysalis on the cutting edge. Under her leadership, Chrysalis brought in such renowned speakers as James Hollis, Parker Palmer, Marcus Borg, Angelo Spoto, Jean Shinoda Bolen, David Whyte, Paula Reeves, and Jeremy Taylor. Nancy also led a number of programs herself, on topics such as creating a spiritual autobiography, exploring one’s inferior functions, and making the most of mid- and later-life.

A key component in Chrysalis’ early success was Nancy’s inclusive and collaborative spirit. She initiated a number of fruitful partnerships with other organizations to achieve the vision. The Community Lecture Series was one such example; co-sponsored by Chrysalis, the Center for Spiritual Formation, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Union Theological Seminary, and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, this series brought outstanding speakers and leaders to the Richmond area for a number of years.

Nancy was proactive both about her own growth and that of others. Joan Garrabrant first met Nancy when she received a telephone call from her saying, “I hear you do dreamwork. I want to meet with you and learn more.” From that call evolved weekly dreams groups that have continued for almost 15 years, and eventually also the Institute for the Enhancement of Dreamwork. According to Joan, “Nancy had a way of connecting you with what is real. She also understood the importance of letting go and enabled a very thoughtful and loving transition plan for stepping down as Chrysalis president.”

Many of us were lucky enough to experience Nancy’s huge nurturing side. Tish Paschall described Nancy as someone who cast a very wide net that included people whose views differed from hers and whose spiritual journeys took a different path. In addition to that nurturing side, Nancy also had what a friend in Maine called a “ferocious spirit.” She stood up for what she believed and dared to challenge others when she perceived something was fundamentally wrong.

At a service honoring Nancy at the outdoor Labyrinth just after she died, friends and colleagues—including many Chrysalis members—gathered to remember her. The comments and gratitude expressed by each person made evident Nancy’s deep impact. She was a cherished friend and mentor to many, and she will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

No, Nancy Millner did not “simply visit this world;” she persistently and ferociously pursued and provided opportunities for spiritual and psychological growth and generously shared her knowledge and gifts with others. Perhaps the best way to preserve Nancy’s memory is to continue to pursue our own spiritual paths and enable others to do the same through Chrysalis.

— Betty Humphries Williams, Founding Board of Advisors, The Chrysalis Group
Click here to learn how to make a contribution to the Nancy B. Millner Endowment Fund