TRAVERSE CITY — Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley, a close friend and confidant of late, former Michigan first lady Helen Milliken, called stepping into a role that lacks a public definition a "thorny chore."
Michigan's Constitution defines the duties and responsibilities of the state's governor, but it doesn't say anything about being a governor's wife.
"It's the job of the so-called first lady which can be vexing," said Braithwaite-Brickley, also a longtime adviser to Helen's husband, former Gov. William Milliken.
But Braithwaite-Brickley's words and the words of other speakers at a memorial service Monday left little doubt that Helen Milliken, through her activism and devotion to causes in which she passionately believed, surpassed any possible definition of "first lady."
"The truth is we all hope our lives will make a difference, and Helen Milliken's certainly did in so many ways," Braithwaite-Brickley said. "Less anyone thinks we are talking about Mother Teresa here, Helen was the first to know her faults and failures, but I believe she came closer to being perfection than anyone I've personally known."
About 400 people gathered Monday at Northwestern Michigan College to pay homage to the life and work of Helen Milliken, who died in November at the age of 89.
Milliken, a native of Colorado and longtime Traverse City resident, served as Michigan's first lady from 1969 to 1983. Her husband still resides on Old Mission Peninsula.
Helen's son Bill Milliken Jr., Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow spoke at the ceremony and shared their thoughts on Milliken as a mother, a friend, a leader and a mentor, and about how her legacy lives on today.
Bill Milliken Jr. said he knew a Helen Milliken who told him to sit up straight, eat his broccoli and practice his cornet.