William Milliken

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William Milliken
William G. Milliken 2 (Michigan Governor).jpg
44th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 22, 1969 January 1, 1983
Lieutenant Thomas F. Schweigert (acting)
James H. Brickley
James Damman
James H. Brickley
Preceded by George W. Romney
Succeeded by Jim Blanchard
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
September 9, 1977 August 29, 1978
Preceded by Reubin Askew
Succeeded by Julian Carroll
54th Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1965 January 22, 1969
Governor George W. Romney
Preceded by T. John Lesinski
Succeeded by Thomas F. Schweigert (acting)
Member of the Michigan Senate
from the 27th district
In office
January 1, 1961 December 31, 1964
Preceded byJohn Minnema
Succeeded byWilliam Romano
Personal details
William Grawn Milliken

(1922-03-26)March 26, 1922
Traverse City, Michigan, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 2019(2019-10-18) (aged 97)
Traverse City, Michigan, U.S.
Political party Republican
Helen Wallbank
(m. 1945;died 2012)
Father James T. Milliken
Relatives James W. Milliken (grandfather)
Education Yale University (BA)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Army.svg  United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
Unit US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Battles/wars World War II

William Grawn Milliken (March 26, 1922 – October 18, 2019) was an American businessman and politician who served as the 44th Governor of Michigan. A member of the Republican Party, he is the longest-serving governor in Michigan history, serving more than three full four-year terms from 1969 to 1983. During this period he dealt with dramatic changes to the state economy, due to industrial restructuring and challenges to the auto industry, resulting in loss of jobs and population from Detroit, the state's largest city.


In 1992, the legislature established term limits for the governor's position, limiting service to two terms for lifetime.

Early life

Milliken was born in Traverse City, Michigan, the second child in a family devoted to public service. His father, James T. Milliken, served as mayor of Traverse City and as Michigan State Senator for the 27th District, 1941–50, and his mother Hildegarde (née Grawn) served on the Traverse City School Board; she was the first woman elected to public office in the city. [1] Milliken's paternal grandfather James W. Milliken had previously one term as a Michigan state senator from the 27th District, 1898–1900. [2]

After graduating from public high school, Milliken entered Yale University, where he met his future wife, Helen Wallbank. In 1942, he interrupted his studies to enlist in the Army Reserve Corps and, in early 1943, volunteered for the Army Air Corps. During World War II, he flew 50 combat missions as a waist-gunner on B-24 bombers and survived two crash landings. He received seven military honors, including the Purple Heart and Air Medal. [3] [4]

On October 20, 1945, one month after his honorable discharge, Milliken married Helen. The couple had two children: a daughter, Elaine, a lawyer and feminist who died of cancer in 1993; and a son William, Jr. The following spring, Milliken graduated from Yale.

William and Helen Milliken moved to Traverse City, Michigan that year and he became president of J.W. Milliken, Inc., a department store founded by his grandfather, and later run by his father. Helen Milliken died at the age of 89 on November 16, 2012 at their Traverse City home, from ovarian cancer. [5]

Political career

In 1947, Governor Kim Sigler appointed Milliken to the Michigan Waterways Commission. In 1960, Milliken was elected as a state senator from the 27th District, serving from 1961 to 1964. He was elected and served as the 52nd Lieutenant Governor of Michigan from 1965 to 1969. He succeeded to the position of governor after George W. Romney resigned from office to serve in President Richard Nixon's cabinet. Milliken was subsequently elected to full four-year terms in his own right in 1970, 1974, and 1978. He was considered to be a moderate Republican governor in the Nelson A. Rockefeller mold. In June 1982, the governor led the formation of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. [ citation needed ]

Governor for 14 years, Milliken is the longest-serving person in that position in state history. With governors limited to two elected terms in office since 1992, it is unlikely that any will serve longer than Milliken. John Engler served for 12 years as governor from 1991 to 2003, making him the second Republican after Milliken to serve three four-year terms.

In December 1982, Milliken appointed Dorothy Comstock Riley to the Michigan Supreme Court to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Blair Moody, Jr.. Riley had run for election to the Supreme Court in the 1982 general election and had been defeated. Milliken was leaving office in less than a month and newly elected Democratic Governor James Blanchard argued he should have made the appointment to replace Moody rather than Milliken. In 1983, the other Supreme Court Justices voted 4-2 to remove Riley from the court, and Blanchard appointed his own choice. Riley was elected to the court in her own right in 1985. [6]

Later life

In 2004, Milliken broke with party ranks to endorse Democratic Senator John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush as President of the United States: "The truth is that President George W. Bush does not speak for me or for many other moderate Republicans on a very broad cross section of issues." [7]

Milliken spoke at the funeral of former Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young in 1997, who was the first African American elected as mayor of that city. In 2008, he endorsed John McCain for president, but backed away in October after McCain's campaign began attacking Democratic candidate Barack Obama. He told the Grand Rapids Press that "He is not the John McCain I endorsed."[ clarification needed ] Milliken expressed concern about the direction of the Republican Party: "Increasingly, the party is moving toward rigidity, and I don't like that. I think Gerald Ford would hold generally the same view I'm holding on the direction of the Republican Party." [8]

In 2010, Milliken endorsed businessman Rick Snyder in the Republican gubernatorial primary. [9] He also backed Snyder in the general election. In 2014 Michigan gubernatorial election, Milliken endorsed Snyder again for a second term. Milliken did not limit his support to Republican candidates, supporting Democrat Gary Peters in the 2014 United States Senate election in Michigan instead of the Republican nominee, Terri Lynn Land. [10]

In 2015, Milliken signed an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage. [11] In August 2016, Milliken announced that he would vote for Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 presidential election, saying that Donald Trump does not embody Republican ideals. [12] On October 18, 2019, William Milliken died after years of declining health at his home in Traverse City. [4]


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  1. "William G. Milliken Biography" (PDF). Michigan Department of Natural Resources . Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  2. "Index to Politicians profile". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved June 7, 2006.
  3. Downes, Robert. "The Very Best People". Northern Express. Traverse City. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  4. 1 2 Livengood, Chad; Mauger, Craig (October 18, 2019). "Bill Milliken, Michigan's Longest-Serving Governor, Dies". The Detroit News . Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  5. Householder, Mike (November 16, 2012). "Helen Milliken, former Michigan first lady, dies at 89". Detroit Free Press . Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  6. "Dorothy Comstock Riley Passes Away at 79" (Press release). State Bar of Michigan. October 25, 2004. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
  7. "Statement by William G. Milliken". Traverse City Record-Eagle . October 18, 2004. Archived from the original on October 21, 2004. Retrieved June 7, 2006.
  8. Shellenbarger, Pat (October 10, 2008). "Former Governor Milliken Backs Away from McCain". Grand Rapids Press . Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  9. Cranson, Jeff (July 22, 2010). "Rick Snyder Wins Endorsement from Former Gov. Bill Milliken". The Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  10. Oosting, Jonathan (September 12, 2014). "Former Michigan Gov. Bill Milliken Backs Rick Snyder for Governor, Gary Peters for Senate". MLive.
  11. Miller, Zeke J. (April 5, 2015). "More than 300 Republicans Call on Supreme Court to Recognize Gay Marriage Nationally". Time . Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  12. Gray, Kathleen (August 8, 2016). "Former Michigan Republican Gov. Milliken Endorses Clinton over Trump". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  13. "William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor". Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved December 7, 2009.


Political offices
Preceded by
John Lesinski
Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Schweigert
Preceded by
George Romney
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Jim Blanchard
Preceded by
Reubin Askew
Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Julian Carroll
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Romney
Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan
1970, 1974, 1978
Succeeded by
Richard Headlee
Preceded by
Louie B. Nunn
Chair of the Republican Governors Association
Succeeded by
Lin Holton