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Erik Lief Miles Dies at 55

Erik Lief Miles

Erik Lief Miles passed away on May 1st, 2024, at the age of 55. Erik was born in 1968 in Condado, Puerto Rico, to Ray Miles, a well-known Virgin Islands photographer and artist, and Donna Lee Howe Miles, a former dancer, beloved teacher, and skilled seamstress. Coming from a Danish-colonial family who arrived in the Virgin Islands with the Danish West Indian Company in the late 1800s, Erik was deeply connected to Virgin Islands’ history and culture. Erik always had a passion for environmental conservation, honoring and preserving historical events and projects, and his life’s work and contributions reflect his desire to improve the world around him and help others.

In his early days, he lived in St. Thomas and moved to Lingfield, Surrey, England as a small boy. In 1974, he and his family moved back to St. Thomas, where he attended Montessori School, Antilles School, and graduated from Sts. Peter and Paul High School in 1988. As a teenager, Erik followed in his father’s footsteps, working with him on film projects and becoming a second-generation cameraman specializing in underwater work. One of Erik’s first jobs was as a grip in the Charlie’s Angels episode “Love Boat Angels” in 1979 at age eleven. He completed some college, focusing on the field of marine biology; however, he dedicated himself to his film work in early adulthood. As a young adult, Erik was also hired as a Principal Investigator and Field Data Specialist by VI DPNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife, conducting work such as bird census counts and Tree Boa Habitat Assessments. On February 21, 1996, Erik married his long-time sweetheart, Tara Chiumento. Erik was a devoted, supportive, and caring husband. The two fell in love as teenagers and have been best friends for 41 years.

Under his business, Studio Five Films, Erik worked as the Social Legislature and Superior Court portraitist as well as a historical researcher, researching and recreating archival images dating back to the 1800s. Following Hurricane Marilyn, Erik and Tara moved to the fast-paced world of film in Miami, Florida, so that Erik could further develop his camera-operating career. Soon, he found himself working as a camera operator in feature films, including Hollywood productions: Any Given Sunday, There’s Something About Mary, Holy Man, Weekend at Bernie’s II, Analyze This, Frogmen, Forces of Nature, A Woman Named Jackie: The Jackie Onassis Story, Columbus: The Discovery, Shadow Warriors-Assault on Devil Island, Chambers of the Heart, Iron Man, and Great Moments in Aviation.

After moving back to St. Thomas in 1999, Erik completed seven documentaries covering important aspects of our Virgin Islands’ rich culture and history. He worked

on “The Charlotte Amalie Saladoid Excavation,” “Virgin Islands National Park,” “Hugo Larsen’s Cultural Portrait of Our Islands,” “Hassel Island, A History,” “We the People/Transfer Day Perspectives,” “Canon Coral Reef Project,” and “Albert Daniels.” He also worked on “Florida Keys Reef Restoration Project” for NOAA, “Leatherback Turtle Project” and “Blue Planet” for the BBC, and other pieces for organizations such as Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Erik won three Gold ADDY awards: Mosaic Award and Video Program Design for the film “We the People” and Best Cinematography for the Chase Bank commercial “Island Portraits.”

In 2014, Erik began work at the St. Thomas Historical Trust as the Executive Director. Here, Erik was able to tap into his love and appreciation of history, caring for artifacts and helping to keep our Virgin Islands’ history alive. He conducted tours of Hassel Island and helped to upkeep the island’s many ruins. He worked in fundraising, developing policies and procedures, and managed the curation of the St. Thomas Historical Trust Museum, volunteer sta, and historical tours. During his time at the Trust, Erik helped to rewrite the VI National Park Foundation Documents and the first Foundation Document for the Coral Reef National Monument. In 2015, Erik’s historical photo series covering the plight of undocumented immigrants in the Caribbean became a permanent feature in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Puerto Rico. Along with his many projects and vast workload, Erik was also a devoted and loving father to his daughter, Portia Miles, born in 2006. He always made time to be there for her as she grew up and often brought her along with him for his jobs or volunteered in the community with her to teach her the value of historical and environmental preservation as well as concern and kindness for others.

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Erik spent a few years working as a construction supervisor, helping people rebuild their homes, before he began work at Coral World Ocean Park as the Facilities Manager. Erik was able to reconnect with his love of the natural world, especially his interest in marine wildlife and habitats. He was happy to work for the animals at Coral World as his last job, and he was proud to know his daughter is headed for Duke University in fall 2024 to study science.

Erik is survived by his immediate family: his wife, Tara Miles; his daughter, Portia Miles; his brother and sister, Page and Crystal Miles; his step-sister, Lee; his father and mother, Ray and Donna Lee Howe Miles; his aunts, Anne Marie Sharp and her children, Tina Ellen Eglin and her children, his mother-in-law, Joyce Chiumento Ph.D, his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Shanda and Nick Overmyer and their children, as well as other numerous friends and relatives.

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