She was respectfully known as the “News Lady” to her colleagues and friends throughout her stellar 15-year career as a premier and popular journalist at Atlanta’s 11-Alive News, but to family and loved ones, she was reverently referred to as “The Queen.”
Ollisteen “Steen” Miles was as good as it gets as a pioneering TV news reporter, Georgia State Senator, columnist for The Champion newspaper, DeKalb County activist, family matriarch, humanitarian, minister and wordsmith. The 70-year-old Miles transitioned March 29, 2017 following a ferocious fight against lung cancer. Steen was tough and tenacious and remarkable to the very end. Her life story is extraordinary and exemplary.
Her moving and memorable four-hour CELEBRATION OF LIFE service on April 8th was planned, produced and orchestrated by “Mother Miles” prior to her death at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur. An estimated 2,200 people were present to salute and honor Steen’s stellar career, character and commitment to “speaking truth to power” in journalism, political debate and personal communications.
“She was, indeed, the epitome of a phenomenal woman,” eulogized retired 11-Alive News anchor Brenda Wood. “If you met her you could not forget her. She was an inspiration to behold When she walked into a room, she lit it up – so commanding, so articulate, so effervescent, so authentic. A bundle of energy and confidence and assurance. She was real people; down-to-earth. Smiling, and yet speaking the truth. Her spirit just oozed from her. I would come to learn by watching her in the newsroom, watching her on the air, watching her in her life seemed like a continuing master class on how to live with direction, determination and dignity. Steen lived a purpose driven life. She knew who she was, whose she was and what she needed to do – and she did it, becoming an Atlanta icon.
“Us newswomen, myself included, called her ‘Queen’”, Woods continued. “Queen of the news business, queen of Atlanta TV. Not because she was some fragile rose who sat in a gilded chair of popularity and recognition. We called her ‘Queen’ because Steen was bold, bodacious, self- assured, took a back seat to no one and was strong without apology. She was a tireless fighter for honest journalism , for justice, for women, for racial equality, for the marginalized and for the broken hearted. We called her “Queen’ because she was a black woman who knew how to fight with her heels and pearls on. She would say, ‘You picked the wrong chick.’ Steen was bad!”
Woods added poignantly, “And, as a result, she broke down barriers, blazed trails and opened doors that all of us sitting here in broadcast news have walked so easily through. Steen is forever a ‘Shero’ in the annals of broadcast journalism.
In that spirit, Carolyn Glenn, publisher of the The Champion Newspaper, based in DeKalb County, announced it will establish an annual “Steen Miles Award for Journalism” that will be directed by her daughter Kellie.
“Steen left the safe, comfortable and well regarded slot with 11-Alive News for the rough and tumble world of politics and public service,” opined Bill Crane, a WSB-TV political commentator and a fellow Champion newspaper columnist in a eulogy read to the church by Glenn. “She felt that she needed to do more to help those on the short end of the stick, which her reporting often testified. She made a respectable and issue focused run for the U.S. Senate, Lt. Governor, DeKalb CEO, and served the better part of two terms in the Georgia State Senate representing DeKalb Senate District 43. [Sen. Miles served from 2005 to 2007]
“Even Steen’s opponents in the arena admired and respected her,” Crane continued in his written soliloquy. “Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle paused during the Sine Die this year to remember his beloved Senate colleague Steen Miles, though she was also one of his many other political opponents during the race for Lt. Governor in 2006.”
According to State Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler of Lithonia, “Steen would always face the hard issues; she never acquiesced, she never gave in to political expedience, she led from the front. She would often tell you, ‘either lead, follow or get out of my way because we have work to do!"
And, work she did divinely and deliciously, with discernment and devotion. Steen Miles was an artist at her crafts, be it journalism, politics, ministry or mentoring.
She was also a pioneer as the consummate Black “News Lady” as a prime-time journalist. She was employed as State Broadcast Editor for United Press International before joining WXIA-TV Atlanta, where she worked and excelled as Assignment Editor, Managing Editor and Reporter- Anchor from 1984-1999. In 2001 Miles was hired as Chief Media Relations Officer for MARTA, serving as the agency’s as the agency’s.
On a personal note, I was a friend and broadcasting colleague of Steen Miles at 11- Alive News from ’84 to ‘89, and I am proud to say so. As my Managing Editor, she was “the straw that stirred the drink” for my reporting and story-telling that resulted in four of my eight Emmy Awards. I later wrote and reported on her political career and campaigns. I was honored to be invited to her recent birthday party at the St Regis Hotel, and to say a few words about her fabulous career achievements.
As I told Matthew Cardinale, the editor of Atlanta Progressive News, in his obit report about the quintessential “News Lady”: “Steen was tough but fair. She was a no holds barred kind of person, but she was fair. What I liked about her, she developed her career. She was an assignment editor. She learned the business," Maynard Eaton said.
"She had a presence about her, she had a style about her. She really epitomized the nickname News Lady - not Newswoman; News Lady," Eaton said.
"She represented Black women and their strength, their integrity, and their character," Eaton said.
"That presence and popularity helped propel her to politics. She had a special flair about her. She had an eye, an ear, and a sense of news, and she used those qualities in politics as well... she didn't see the change much - just the job title," Eaton said
Keith Whitney, who worked with her at 11Alive and is now at CBS46, called her a “bulldog” in the best sense of the word to AJC.com. “She was as tough as anyone you’d ever meet in the business. She was very outspoken. When other people might shy away from an uncomfortable issue, she’d speak up. She never held her tongue. Even if you didn’t like her, you respected her. She was one of those people who put everything into whatever assignment she was given. She was unforgettable.”
Evelyn Mims, who was the long-time community affairs specialist and producer at 11Alive, said Miles was the “[ California Congresswoman] Maxine Waters of the newsroom. She was a powerhouse. She was a strong woman period. Family and spiritually oriented. Her parents were ministers.”
DeKalb County’s 4th District Congressman Hank Johnson told this reporter during an interview at Greenforest Baptist that Steen Miles was an iconic, important and influential community leader.
“Steen is the epitome of someone who went to high places but never left home,” Rep. Johnson said. “She was just so steeped in the people of her community – not just the wealthy or those who had position. All people just loved Steen, and considered her to be their sister or their mother or their friend. She could be seen anywhere driving that Jaguar by herself; unafraid to go anywhere. The community belonged to her. We are going to miss her. We’re talking about a pillar of the community. Steen was the essence of that.”