Rene A. Miville
René A. Miville — a World War II U.S. Navy combat veteran, Boston University graduate, opera singer, musician, actor, business owner and, in 1996 at age 69, the oldest man in the United States to successfully receive a heart transplant — died on Sept. 2, 2010 at Massachusetts General Hospital,at the age of 83 after a year-long battle with illness,
Born in 1927 in Lawrence, Mass, René was the oldest of four children born to René & Beatrice (Kelley) Miville. In 1932 his parents opened Miville’s Bakery & Luncheonette; the business was a fixture in downtown Lawrence for many years. He served as an able-bodied seaman on the fleet tanker YOG-70 and saw action in the South Pacific during the naval campaigns of 1944 and 1945.
He attended Baylor University. His natural gift as a baritone/bass-baritone singer led him to transfer to Boston University where he studied Opera and received a Bachelor of Arts degree. After graduation, he worked and performed locally in the Greater Boston area and in 1951 was the first grand-prize winner of WBZ-TV’s Community Auditions “Star of the Day” show.
He perfected his vocal craft in Italy and performed in Milan, Como, Varese and Trieste. In 1958 he was invited to perform at the Spoleto (Italy) Music Festival.
Miville returned to America and was discovered by Columbia Pictures and signed to a contract. During his time with Columbia, he studied at the Actors Workshop in New York. His strong bass-baritone voice and a gift for comedy acting was showcased by performances on the Columbia Artists Tour in numerous summer stock musical comedy productions ranging from “Three Penny Opera” to “Once upon a Mattress,” “Bye-Bye Birdie,” “Oklahoma” and “Carousel.”
He was a featured soloist with Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops, sang with American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall, sang in several productions with Sarah Caldwell’s Boston Opera Company, and performed with both the Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Opera Companies. In the 1960s-’70s an operatic career was a hard way to make a living, so Miville returned to the hospitality industry working as a restaurant manager at Maxwell’s Plum in New York City, as the Maître d’ at The Chateau de Ville Dinner Theatre in Framingham, Mass., and as a catering manager in several locations.
In 1978 he started Corporate World, a management consulting firm specializing in executive search and placement for the hospitality industry. He was in business in the Boston area for over 25 years and placed many executive chefs, catering directors, food/beverage directors and general managers in new jobs.. He continued to perform as a singer in local churches, synagogues and the occasional nightclub. For years he also donated his time and vocal expertise to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s all-volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
He was quite athletic and had maintained himself in good physical condition into his mid-sixties. However, in 1994 he was diagnosed with severe cardiomyopathy and was in failing health with a heart transplant his only hope of staying alive. In May, 1996 while Miville was in Yale-New Haven Hospital being treated for very low blood pressure and weakness, Dr. Elefteriades found a suitable heart transplant match, and Miville made medical history as the then-oldest man in America to complete a successful heart transplant.
After the transplant, his life was re-invigorated; he returned to work part-time, traveled locally in New England, had numerous visits with his sons and their families in Captiva, attended an emotional re-union with his World War II shipmates in Ohio, and visited friends all over the country. He experienced a vocal renaissance as well and returned to occasional public performances at local churches, also participating in performances of the Cabaret Espresso vocal group when visiting the Krigers in the Orlando area.
He touched many lives and leaves many friends who will fondly remember him from the entertainment, hospitality, religious, university and medical communities. He was known for his legendary wit and off-the-cuff humor; his many doctors, nurses & staff members at MGH will fondly remember René as one of the most intelligent and engaging patients they cared for during his 14-year association with the hospital.
He always felt that his family was his most important legacy and leaves his son, René, Jr., his wife, Marguerite, and their children, his grandchildren — René IV, Mirella and Maxime of Captiva; his son, Julien, of New York City; his only surviving brother, Peter, and his wife, Claire, of Hampton Falls, N.H.; several nephews and nieces; and his former wives — Ella Hall of Captiva, and Susan S. Miville of Charlotte, N.C.
A Funeral Mass was held on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 at St. Monica Church, Methuen. Burial was in Sacred Heart Cemetery, Andover, Mass.