Leading political figures voiced well-deserved tributes last week upon the death of former first lady Helen Milliken for her contributions on behalf of the arts, environment and women's issues.
But not to be overlooked is her more obscure but enduring legacy on behalf of some of the most vulnerable among us, most notably in her hometown of Traverse City.
In the first wave of tributes, Gov. Rick Snyder, saying he was joined by first lady Sue Snyder, said:
"Her contributions to Michigan are countless. As a champion of women's issues, patron of the arts and dedicated conservationist, Mrs. Milliken lent her strong voice to enrich our state to this day. Long after Gov. Bill Milliken left office, she remained a driving force for the betterment of Michigan, because she loved this state and believed in its future.
"Mrs. Milliken set the standard for the next generation of first ladies. She embraced her role with dignity, strength and wisdom. She was the perfect partner for Gov. Milliken sharing his commitment for principled leadership. The people of Michigan knew they had a partner in her as well." Ex-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who also including spouse Dan Mulhern in her comments, said:
"Helen was an advocate for so many of the things that make our world a better place, from the environment to the arts. She had a heartfelt laugh and a quick sense of humor, and the courage to speak her mind when she was a step ahead of her time." But, as noted by her son, Bill, Jr., as much as she would appreciate praise for her personal qualities and leadership on front burner issues, an effort she especially valued was in support of Helen's House of the Women's Resource Center (WRC) in Traverse City. She was on the center's board of directors.
According to WRC Executive Director Jo Bullis, Helen's House, established in 1993 in honor of the "great lady" as a haven for battered women and their children, has served more than 4,000 women and children.
Son Bill said the shelter was a special point of pride for his mother.
Mark McKelvey, who was part of the Milliken administration as administrative aide to Lt. Gov. Jim Brickley, said upon her death in quoting a John Updike comment, a "regrettable thing about death is the ceasing of your own brand of magic which took a whole life to develop and market "¦" The Helen Milliken magic is gone, but well remembered.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.