Tiger for Life
Story by Tom Loeffler | Dec 28, 2015
Erwin Milne, attorney and diehard Mizzou fan, shares a positive outlook even while struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.
Erwin Milne was a student at the University of Missouri for seven years, but he was hardly on the lazy man’s plan to avoid real life as long as possible. After getting his degree in agriculture, Milne earned his law degree three years later in 1974.
During his time in Columbia, you could say he was a Tiger fan — he missed one game in seven years. That would be a football or basketball game. The one game? A football game against Kansas. Really? Kansas, of all games? Why?
“I’m a devout fan, but I went home that weekend,” says Milne, age 66. “I knew Kansas was going to win. They had quarterback David Jaynes, who was really good and I just couldn’t watch it.”
He was right because Kansas won. That was in 1972.
When you visit Milne these days, his door is still decorated with a Missouri wreath that’s covered with Tiger paraphernalia. Once inside, his Missouri Christmas tree is still up. On the walls and shelves you’ll find Missouri logos, emblems and stickers, Missouri neck ties, a Missouri nerf basketball hoop, Missouri curtains, Missouri hats, a stuffed Tiger, a Missouri coconut dressed up like a football and a framed picture hanging over his bed of a basketball game at Mizzou Arena.
M-I-Z … Z-O-U, indeed.
Milne still doesn’t miss a game. But now, he just watches them on TV. This is not by choice. If he could go, he would. In 2002, Milne was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic and incurable autoimmune disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. The cause of the disease is still unknown.
“I tried to get out of bed and go to the bathroom one morning and my left leg wouldn’t work,” he says. “It wasn’t just numb. There really wasn’t any feeling at all.”
The disease has progressed. Milne now spends the vast majority of his time in bed — he hasn’t walked in more than four years and he’s lost most use of his arms and hands. His face droops a bit, which makes him look as if he’s suffered a stroke. He’s lost the vision in his left eye and his speech is thick, slurred and often difficult to understand, all because of the MS.
“It’s frustrating,” Milne says of his speech. “That pretty well ended my career as an attorney.” Both his eyesight and speech could continue to worsen, or both might stabilize.
They just don’t know. Unfortunately, there’s no script with MS.
Milne grew up in Oregon, Missouri, a small town just north of St. Joseph in northwest Missouri. That’s where his love for the Tigers started to blossom.
“I’ve been a Missouri fan all my life, for all time,” Milne says. He graduated from South Holt High School and became an Eagle Scout, which is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts.
After college, he worked as an attorney in Trenton for six years before moving to Jefferson City in 1980 and continuing his practice until 2011.
“That’s when I really became disabled,” he says. He moved into a Jefferson City nursing home on a date he’ll never forget, August 16, 2011. His life is mostly constricted to this one room,
which has become his very own shrine to the Missouri Tigers.
Nestled amidst the Tiger gear is a simple, one-word placard that says: “Smile.” Despite all he’s been through, Milne still does smile while generously sharing his infectious laugh. You see disgruntled people every day, who grouse and complain about their plight, when they truly have nothing significant to grouse or complain about.
Milne doesn’t grouse or complain but smiles, and his spirit, outlook and attitude remain undaunted. How does he do it?
“People my age have cancer and other things worse than MS,” he says. “Other people have worse troubles than I do. And I have a strong [Methodist] faith.”
Milne loved to read but can’t anymore due to his failing eyesight. But his wife and best friend of 31 years, Jennifer, who still teaches at Jefferson City High School, reads to him on a regular basis. His favorite author is James Lee Burke, who’s a mystery writer and a graduate of, not surprisingly, MU.
Milne spends most of his days, “…watching TV and sleeping. I love ‘NCIS,’ but I’ve seen them all a hundred times,” he says. There’s a picture on the wall next to his bed from World War II of his father with his Marine squad. His dad was the only one smiling. “I guess,” Milne says, “I came by it honest.”
When he could, Milne played golf and loved to hunt deer, quail and pheasant. “I really miss that,” he says. So if he could get out of that wheelchair right now, what would be the first thing he’d do? His answer was quick and easy. “Take my wife out to dinner,” he says.
As our visit came to an end, we said our good-byes, shook hands and shared a hug. As I reached the door, I turned to him and said, “M-I-Z …” Milne’s eyes grew big and bright and his volume went to another level. “Z-O-U!,” he said loudly and proudly with a burst of enthusiasm. And of course, he said it with a smile.