TRAVERSE CITY — Many remember the late Gov. William Milliken as a kind and courteous man of integrity and a true statesman.

In a stark contrast to today’s political climate, Milliken, a moderate Republican, also had the ability to bring together people from both sides of the aisle.

Milliken died Oct. 18 at his Traverse City home. He was 97. He was Michigan’s longest-serving governor, holding the office for 14 years, from 1969 to 1983.

A memorial service will be held in Traverse City in May, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking, though that date has has not been set. His ashes will be interred in the Mackinac Island Cemetery next to those of his wife Helen, who died in 2012, and daughter Elaine, who died in 1993.

His legacy lies in his strong support of the business community, as well as his stands on civil rights, race relations and the protection of natural resources. He was pro-choice and championed women’s rights, supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. He also believed in assisted suicide and same sex marriage.

Milliken’s roots ran deep in Traverse City, where he was born and lived for most of his life. He graduated from Traverse City High in 1940, having shown political promise as president of his freshman class, president of the National Honor Society and student council governor.

He attended Yale University for two years before enlisting in the Army Reserve Corps and volunteering for the Army Air Corps. In 1944 he left for combat and during World War II he flew 50 missions on B-24 bombers, surviving two crash landings.

He married Helen in 1945 and graduated from Yale in 1946. The couple moved to Traverse City and had two children, Elaine and William Milliken Jr.

Milliken went to work and later became president of J.W. Milliken, Inc., the department store founded by his grandfather. He got involved in the Boy Scouts, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary and the Red Cross.

He served in the Michigan Senate from 1961 to 1964, soon becoming the Senate majority floor leader and then lieutenant governor for Gov. George Romney. He became governor when Romney resigned to take a cabinet appointment in the Nixon administration.

Milliken passed the Michigan’s bottle return law and was focused on cleaning up the Great Lakes. In 1999 the Michigan Environmental Council established the Helen and William G. Milliken Award, which each year honors a distinguished life and career of service to the state’s environment.

After leaving the governor’s office, he returned to Traverse City, where he remained active in the community, often speaking out on various issues.

In 2004 he broke with the Republicans to endorse John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush; in 2008 he endorsed Sen. John McCain for president, but withdrew that support when McCain’s campaign attacked Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

in 2016, he was unable to endorse Donald Trump and voted for Hillary Clinton.

Dave Dempsey, who wrote the biography, “William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate,” may have best summed up the former governor: “His greatest characteristic was his civility. He didn’t demonize opponents. In fact, he tried to work with people of all views.”

Trending Video

Recommended for you