Miller, Mary E. Buford (1921–1990)

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Mary E. Buford Miller, college dean, was born in Nichols, Florida, on August 27, 1921. Her mother, Katherine, and her father were divorced when she, an only child, was very young. She was later legally adopted by her mother's second husband, Jesse Elmer Buford. At age eleven she moved with her family to Dallas, Texas; there she graduated from high school and enrolled in Southern Methodist University, where she earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and English in 1940 and a master's degree in English the following year. After a brief career in public relations and personnel work, in 1944 she became an English instructor at Dallas College, the SMU evening school, then located in downtown Dallas. From this position Miller worked to increase SMU's involvement in the community and became a well-known advocate of continuing education. In 1957 she began a program of noncredit short courses for adults, which offered both casual learning opportunities and continuing professional training. Her efforts provided the groundwork for the development of the SMU continuing-education curriculum and established her as a national specialist in this area. The adult course programs she later developed included management for women executives, advertising training, and legal-assistance certification. In 1960 she was named director of continuing education for SMU; eight years later she was made associate dean in the School of Continuing Education. In 1975 she became dean of this school, the first female dean at SMU. She held this position until her retirement in 1985. Throughout her tenure, she envisioned continuing education as a significant counterpart to career education, especially as it enabled the university to assist unusual students. She was also instrumental in the founding of SMU's distinguished lecture series in 1982.

Miller belonged to the Association for Continuing Higher Education, the Texas Association for Community Service and Continuing Education, and the Texas College Bicentennial Program. She also served on the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, provided consultant services to government and voluntary programs, and was a Methodist. As an innovator and developer in adult education, she received awards from Soroptimist International and Women in Communication. She died of cancer in Dallas on July 19, 1990, and was survived by her husband, Lester H. Miller, and one granddaughter. Her daughter and only child preceded her in death. Mary Miller was buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park, Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News, October 4, 1968, November 18, 1975, July 8, 1976, July 21, 1990. Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sunday Magazine, September 7, 1975, July 21, 1990. Vertical Files, Texas-Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library.


  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Women


  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Miller, Mary E. Buford,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: