Ernie, as she was affectionately known, died at VistaCare Hospice at Emory University Hospital after being diagnosed last October with an aggressive liver cancer.
On her 70th birthday in April, families and friends helped her celebrate her life. President Barack Obama sent birthday greetings, and Commissioner Larry Johnson declared April 12 “Ernestine McMillan Day” in DeKalb County.
McMillan, who lived in Stone Mountain, was the longest-serving employee at South DeKalb Mall, now the Gallery at South DeKalb. She worked there for 25 years spanning several ownerships.
Tene Harris-Gallemore, the mall’s general manager, who worked with McMillan over the past nine years, called her an asset to their company, the community, and the various organizations and charities that she supported.
“Her passing is a loss to the South DeKalb community,” said Harris-Gallemore, who gave birth to her first child the same day that McMillan died.
Harris-Gallemore said she will remember Ernie’s dedication to her job, to breast cancer and domestic violence issues, and to her grandchildren.
“She was not a 9-to-5 employee,” Harris-Gallemore said. “Whether it was to come in, in the middle of the night or stay late, or work on snow days, she was always willing to do what was needed. She was totally committed.”
Brenda Jackson, her friend of 14 years, called her “an outstanding woman.”
“She was always a sharp, classy, sensitive, loving and kind person,” said Jackson. “She just had a caring spirit about her. She cared about other people’s well-being. I am going to miss her smile and her bubbly and positive personality.”
McMillan was born to Ralph and Betty Burdette in the West Virginia coal mining town of Jenkinjones. Her mother died when she 12 years old and she grew up with her aunt and uncle, Alberta and Carl Mitchell, in Washington, D.C.
She moved to Atlanta in 1985 and joined South DeKalb Mall in 1987 as an executive management assistant.
McMillan founded Ernie’s Butterfly Assistance Inc. after surviving breast cancer in 2001. The organization provides emergency financial assistance, resources, information and education to breast cancer patients and victims of domestic violence.
She was also a big supporter of the Susan G. Komen Walk for Cancer and fielded a walking team of “Ernie’s Butterflies” for the annual event.
McMillan was a board member of Safe Haven Transitional Home and was instrumental in getting basic living resources, furniture, clothing and more for women and their children fleeing violent homes.
She is survived by her daughter Kim McMillan-Davis and sons Darell Brown and Keith McMillan, eight grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.
She was an active member of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, where her home-going service will take place at noon on Aug. 4. The church is 3250 Rainbow Drive in Decatur. Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Home on Flat Shoals Parkway is in charge of arrangements.