BY ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporter/June 14, 2013 3:14PM Updated: June 15, 2013 2:13 AM
As a member of the U.S. Army’s segregated “Buffalo Soldiers,’’ Aurelius “Reo” B. Miles returned from World War II in 1945 with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Silver Star for valor — and one less leg.
But Mr. Miles, a longtime resident of Chicago’s South Side, never let the loss of a leg suffered in action on the Italian front get him down.
“Undaunted, he pursued other interests with gusto. Nothing ever held him back,’’ said his niece, Lisa Washington, whom Mr. Miles raised as a daughter from the age of 5 .
“He was the most positive man I’ve ever known.’’
Mr. Miles, who died May 27 at age 99, recuperated after the war in California, where he attended Stanford University and, in 1952, became the first African-American graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law.
It was not the first time he broke the color barrier.
Before the war, in Chicago, Mr. Miles was the first black tennis player at Hyde Park High School, and, at the time, the only African American in the school, Washington said.
Aurelius “Reo” B. Miles
He went on to win local tennis tournaments, relatives said, and to become a member of the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club, founded by a small group of African Americans who believed that athletic competition helped build character.
Years later, despite his artificial leg, Mr. Miles would take his son, David Miles, to play tennis “and he was able to run David around the court with his wooden leg,’’ said Washington. “He didn’t even break a sweat.’’
After the war, Mr. Miles bought property and built a house in Palo Alto for $7,900, said Washington. When Mr. Miles and his wife, Ethel Rivers Washington Miles, visited the home years later, in the 1980s, “they couldn’t afford it. It was worth $1.5 million,’’ Washington said.
Mr. Miles and his wife eventually relocated to Chicago, where they built a second home at 8606 S. Michigan.
A lover of real estate, Mr. Miles became branch manager of Draper & Kramer’s Chatham office, and went on to serve as the original property manager of the T.K. Lawless Gardens high-rise housing development.
As the complex’s first property manager, Mr. Miles was responsible for advertising the property, securing its original tenants and maintaining it. He had to know everything from plumbing to roofing — all while displaying good people skills, said Murray Wolbach III, a Draper & Kramer senior vice president.
“He did it very well, as he did everything,’’ Wolbach said. “He was eminently fair, tough when he had to be, and a highly, highly intelligent man. And a genuinely nice man,” Wolbach said. “He was about the nicest guy you ever met in your life.’’
In the early 1960s, on weekends, Washington said, Mr. Miles would pile the family into the car, with everyone “dressed to the nines,’’ and visit subdivisions and open houses.
“We’d do that for grins, for fun — going to open houses in far subdivisions in the middle of nowhere.’’ During visits, Washington said, the kids would fantasize and, running from room to room, declare, “That’s my bedroom!’”
Afterward, Mr. Miles would take the family to dinner downtown, where Chicago’s Blackhawk Restaurant and its spinning salad bowl became a favorite treat.
“We’d show up all dressed up. It was so unexpected. As a black man in the ’60s, he saw no boundaries, no limitations,’’ Washington said.
In the mid 1960s, Mr. Miles and his wife, a Chicago Public School teacher, moved to the South Shore neighborhood. The couple enjoyed playing poker and bridge with friends and were both active in the Church of the Good Shepherd.
After his wife of 50 years passed away in the late 1980s, Mr. Miles remained socially active. He was available at a moment’s notice with a tuxedo for widowed family friends who needed an escort.
“He considered himself `Have tux, will escort,’ ’’ Washington said. “It was purely platonic.’’
Mr. Miles was a member of the Military Retired Officers Association, the Disabled American Veterans, the Druids, the Unicorns Social Club and the Omega Psi Phil fraternity.
He was invited to the inauguration of President Barack Obama, whom he had supported financially, by the Democratic National Committee and the White House. Washington said.
“He didn’t go, but he got Christmas cards from them with Bo’s (the family dog’s) paw print on it,” Washington said.
As a member of the 92nd Infantry Division and a decorated Army captain, Mr. Miles was honored June 7 in a private ceremony at Joliet’s Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, complete with “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.
In addition to his son and niece, Mr. Miles is survived by his sister, Alwilda “Sister” Miles Davis; niece Sandra Paris, and grandson Aron Washington.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at Cage Funeral Chapel, 7651 S. Jeffery Blvd., with visitation at 3 p.m. and a memorial service at 4 p.m.