North Bend’s new mayor is ready to open more doors

Mary Miller recaps where she came from and how she got here.

Mary Miller, a native of Toronto, has ventured into various roles before assuming the position of mayor-elect in North Bend.

She attributes her successes in life to her daring leaps of faith and her deep commitment to her community.

During her youth, Miller relocated from Toronto, Ontario, to Michigan. Subsequently, she enrolled at Michigan State University, where her interest in photography blossomed in 1980 while working for the Michigan State News, the university’s newspaper.

Miller recalled her editor wasting no time — her first assignment was a front-page photo and an inside shot.

“So that was my goal. I stepped out the door, my camera with two lenses and a flash,” Miller smirked. “Once that picture got in the newspaper, I was like, I’m in.”

After graduating at age 22, Miller loaded up her mother’s station wagon and headed to Los Angeles, where she spent two years photographing for the Los Angeles Times, later pivoting to real estate photography.

After leaping into a new chapter of her life, Miller said she embraced taking bold strides.

“If I don’t try, I’ll never know and I’ll always wonder. I think I’ve held that my entire life,” she said.

In 1991, Miller and her former husband eventually decided to move and start a family in North Bend, where they had two children.

When Miller became a parent, that marked the start of her journey guiding young individuals and students through mentorship. Miller has mentored young photographers and filmmakers, and has spoken at various schools in the Snoqualmie Valley School District — a role she continues to fulfill.

Courtesy photo
Mary Miller is the new mayor of North Bend after winning in the November 2023 general election.

Courtesy photo Mary Miller is the new mayor of North Bend after winning in the November 2023 general election.

“I found a way to put my efforts in different schools, different ways to speak to people about the passions I have… and how to have the kids understand that following your passion is a good thing. Finding your education along the way with that passion is also important,” she said. “Trusting what’s in [your heart] and your gut is important too, but so is coming up with a plan on how to make it a career at a high school level.”

Miller’s introduction to the outdoor culture of North Bend marked another significant milestone as a new resident. She chuckled while reminiscing about her experience learning to ski on a former landfill situated in the lower flat lands of Michigan.

Yet, since her first hike to the summit of Mount Si — which she admitted was not a graceful endeavor — she became a hiking enthusiast.

“I got up top and took a look at that view that day. It was a spring day, it was clear weather and you could see all the way into Seattle,” she said. “I remember looking around like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I was so upset a second ago’… I then became a forever lover of hiking ever since.”

As Miller opened her arms to new passions, she continued her photography career and alongside freelancing. She worked various jobs as a church photographer around the state and at a male-dominated photography shop in Bellevue.

“I kind of had to prove myself — and I was still young— that I was not just a photo finisher, that I knew about cameras, I could learn about them and do the sales side of it,” Miller said.

Miller transitioned from corporate photography to a new position in 2009, as the photographer for the City of North Bend — a position that had not existed before Miller proposed the role.

Despite its low pay, Miller noted that this position was a crucial element of her career path, propelling her into roles she undertook from 2019 to 2023 as a North Bend City Council member, and now the newly elected mayor in 2024.

“I started to listen to the stories, and I started reading up and showing up at the city council meetings, photographing events at those meetings,” she said. “I started taking real look at my own hometown and saw that some interesting things were going on.”

As Miller delved deeper into city matters, she initiated her own research, engaging in discussions with city council members, pursuing her passion for building relationships, and consequently becoming increasingly involved in the civic matters of North Bend.

“I think I just took roots from them — took a bold chance — and ran for planning commissioner, which was an appointed seat,” she said.

Miller noted the role required extensive reading, double checking, discussing and debating documents that ultimately help the city council make decisions forward.

Through her work as the planning commissioner, Miller said she began to see the future of North Bend, including the growth to come and the lack of structure and preparation for such growth.

“I felt it was genuinely enough of a concern for me to, once again, take a bold move, and try to put myself out there in a way that would be well received by the community,” Miller said. “So, the next step for me was a natural forefront, to push forward to go into the council.”

Throughout the year, Miller said people questioned her transition from photography to councilmember and for years, she would answer these inquiries.

“If you want to change your career, add something to your career, why not? The only one who can say no is me ultimately,” Miller said. “So, I keep opening those doors to something new and fresh and keep my mind active.”

She said photography, family and community “are all passions I can’t seem to let go of.”

Since her four years as a council member, Miller has opened yet another door, now as the new mayor-elect.

When Miller decided to run for mayor, she followed the advice she had often given to her children and many young students — a wisdom she had acquired since driving to Los Angeles in her old station wagon: to follow your instincts and passions while complementing them with education and knowledge before embarking on a leap of faith.

“I kind of weighed those risks, but I think it was more of a risk to not do what I felt I needed to strongly commit to,” she said. “I think the greater risk is to not do something that you feel in your heart you could do differently.”