In the spring of 1992, five men sat down for dinner at the Lansing Country Club. It was a distinctive gathering. Each had served as governor of Michigan. Each had graciously responded to my invitation to celebrate George Weeks of The Detroit News on the publication of his book, “Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan.”
All the living governors were there: John B. Swainson (1961-62), George Romney (1963-1969), William G. Milliken (1969-1982), James J. Blanchard (1983-1990) and John Engler, the sitting governor.
Weeks, who passed away November 30 at 86, was at his modest best that evening. He sat with a quiet smile as the five governors around the table told stories and poked fun at the journalist they had come to honor. He offered a wry comment or two when when he thought their compliments were over the top in lauding his lifetime of journalistic truth-telling.
The five governors around the table — all competitive politicians — recalled their experiences being covered by George. But the governor who dominated the conversation that evening was George Romney. He was more of a presence on the national stage than the other governors, and it showed in his capacity to command the room. That was no surprise to George Weeks.
He served as an aide to Gov. Milliken for 14 years before signing on as a columnist for The News. In recent years, Weeks and Milliken were frequent lunch companions in Traverse City.
Weeks had an encyclopedic knowledge of Michigan’s governors. His book, “Stewards of the State” is considered an important resource on Michigan government and politics.
In May 1986, when I began my work as editor of The Detroit News, I soon wondered how this man who had been a journalist and then jumped to working for a governor could then effectively switch back to journalism. Surely he must have brought a political bias back with him to the newsroom. I was quickly disabused of that notion. I saw how hard George Weeks worked and how his even-handed reporting built a reputation for accuracy and fairness. He was a great asset to the paper and its readers.
His notebook of sources was the envy of statehouse reporters and political writers. When an important Michigan political story was breaking, George had the phone numbers and the self assurance that the voice on the other end of the line trusted him and would truthfully answer his questions.
George loved Northern Michigan. He and his late wife Mollie were dedicated to their small Lake Michigan cottage in Glen Haven. They were proud of its location in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
He mentored me as the new editor in town. He gave me insights on Michigan government and politics, and never missed an opportunity to extol the beauty and richness of life along Lake Michigan.
One summer day in 1987, while my family and I were on holiday at Glen Lake, I visited Mollie Weeks’ Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor. While she rang up a sale, I asked if she knew of any lakefront property on the market. That brief conversation put us on the trail of a stunning patch of land at Cathead Point in Northport where Nancy and I now have a beloved family cottage.
Weeks’ interests ranged far beyond politics. He wrote books about the early days of Traverse City when it was a frontier lumbering town and a steamboat stop. He wrote about the influence of native Americans in a book, “Mem-ka-weh: Dawning of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.”
After his retirement from The News in 2006, George continued to write his column for the Record-Eagle and other Northern Michigan newspapers. I always looked forward to Sunday morning and another episode of the wisdom and foresight he shared with readers.
There is no way to end a reflection about the life of George Weeks. He stood for the enduring values of journalism; truth, accuracy, fairness and honesty. In his work and in life, he demonstrated a rare understanding of where we are.
Bob Giles is a member of the editorial board of the Record-Eagle. He and his wife Nancy live in Traverse City.