Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 25, 2012

George Weeks: An homage to ex-governor

By George Weeks, Syndicated columnist
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---- — This is a somewhat awkward salute to 1969-82 Gov. William G. Milliken, Michigan's longest-serving governor.

Assuming that dusty records I checked before noting his 90th birthday on March 26 are correct, he also is Michigan's second-longest living governor upon leaving office. Alpheus Felch, the 1846-47 governor back when we were scarcely 10 years as a state, died at age 91 in 1896.

Ranking third is 1911-12 Gov. Chase S. Osborn, who died in 1949 at age 89. He was an historical soulmate and somewhat of a political mentor of Milliken.When Milliken was in high school (a governor of his school even then), Osborn would mail him an occasional dollar.

Osborn, Michigan's only governor from the Upper Peninsula, was one of the state's most progressive and memorable political figures — and fighters.

He was a friend of Milliken's father, state Sen. James T. Milliken. Both were conservationists and today would be called moderate Republicans.

Bill Milliken, while governor, organized a group of governors and others called the Moderate Action Group. It fizzled out. So it goes in today's GOP.

I say this salute is a bit awkward because as a Milliken functionary during his administration, I tried to be responsive to him. When I called about doing this column, he quipped that it would be nice if I noted that it was his 56th birthday. (I recalled that Jack Benny was forever 39 as years went by.)

Milliken's father died at age 70. His grandfather, also a state senator and founder of the family department store in Traverse City, died at age 60 of a stroke in 1908 while on a train to New Haven, Conn., to attend his son's graduation ceremonies at Yale University (from which his grandson also graduated )

Having mentioned his father and grandfather, I should note that the Milliken record owes much to his mother. Hildegard Grawn Milliken was an environmentalist of her day and instilled a sense all too rare in politicians — civility.

Milliken is unique among a long line of former governors of his era in that he did not seek other elective or appointive offices. G. Mennen Williams, after flirting with a presidential bid, was a Kennedy assistant secretary of state and an ambassador. George Romney made a presidential bid and ended up in the Nixon Cabinet. James J. Blanchard was a Clinton ambassador to Canada.

Milliken upon leaving office took on a number of environmental, urban, corporate and other issues. Former first lady Helen Milliken, an activist on numerous issues while in Lansing, joined in some causes.

Milliken had a supportive role in some Republican campaigns, including campaigning for now-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2010.

This column has focused on Milliken and longevity. I close with a comment from his longest-serving helpmate — Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley, of Traverse City. She is a former aide for the Republican State Party who was an early Milliken supporter before he became lieutenant governor and had assorted leadership roles as appointments czar, political liaison and campaign manager while he was governor. She then helped him on his papers and other post-office chores.

She called him "a great leader and a gentleman," adding that, in contrast today, there is "too much discourtesy and venom in public service."

Well said.