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Governor Whitmer Provides Remarks at Memorial Service for Governor William Milliken
August 06, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2020
Media Contact: Press@Michigan.gov
Governor Whitmer Provides Remarks at Memorial Service for Governor William Milliken
INTERLOCHEN, Mich. -- Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer provided remarks at the memorial service for Governor William Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor, who passed away in October of 2019. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Last year, Michiganders lost a true statesman, a model of bipartisanship, and a Michigan icon who served our people with integrity and honor. In his 14 years of service to our state, Governor Bill Milliken taught us a number of powerful lessons that leaders everywhere will carry with them for decades.
Governor Milliken is deservedly known for his commitment to protecting our environment, investing in public education, and preserving jobs in the auto industry. He understood that in Michigan, a strong foundation is built on the preservation of our Great Lakes and fresh water, quality education for our kids, and paths to good jobs for everyone in our state. Now, decades later, these values still hold true. And the paths that we take to meet these goals can define who we are as leaders and as Michiganders, and we must work together to get it done.
While I didn’t know Governor Milliken during his term of office, his leadership has always been a central part of my life. The day I was born, on August 23, 1971 at Sparrow Hospital, my dad worked for Bill Milliken. My birth announcement mentioned Governor Milliken. I was raised in a household of two public servants who revered their bosses - Bill Milliken and Frank Kelley. My whole life I have strived to emulate my two amazing parents and the men who helped shape their careers and world view. I never imagined I would have the great honor of speaking at Governor Milliken’s memorial – and I am incredibly honored to be here.
I learned as a young child from my father and mother and many of their friends that the profound respect in which he was held was well deserved. Under Governor Milliken’s leadership, my father served as Director of the Department of Commerce, and learned from him many important lessons that he passed down to my siblings and me. Lessons about treating others with respect - - even those on the other side of the aisle. Later, as an adult in politics, I had several opportunities to speak to Governor Milliken first-hand. He was a person of great substance, honor, and decency. He loved and protected our natural beauty, and was deeply committed to treating every Michigan resident with respect and dignity.
Governor Milliken was always eager to learn from his predecessors, regardless of their party. Michigan’s only governor from the Upper Peninsula, Governor Chase Osborne, had a profound impact on Milliken, even before he became governor. Much like Governor Milliken was a friend of my father, Governor Osborne had been a friend of Milliken’s father, and long after his governorship, served as a mentor to Bill. He had such an impact that his portrait hung outside Milliken’s office throughout his years of service. Governor Milliken understood that true leadership means knowing that it is often more important to listen than to speak – whether it’s a mentor like Governor Osborne, or a legislator from the other side of the aisle. Like Milliken learned from Osborne, I’ve spent several years learning from the lessons Governor Milliken taught us every day – that we are all Michiganders first. No matter our political party or the community in which we live, we are all bound together by our love for this state.
He led by example, and that example should remind us every day to never abuse, or ignore, or forget the sacred trust of public service. It should remind us that there is an important role of government, and that is to never forget those we serve, and to treat them with humanity, dignity, and respect.
Governor Milliken’s passionate belief that everyone can, and should, make a positive contribution was expressed by many of his public actions. He acted as a man who believed that politics must be an honorable profession; and that public service is among the greatest honors a people convey; and that this honor is accompanied by a serious obligation to perform at one’s best.
Most of all, William Milliken behaved as a man who understood that he was not the Governor of a special interest, or a region or a party. Bill Milliken was a governor of all the people of this great state – those who voted for him and those who didn’t -- and for these and many other reasons we remember him with a fondness he richly deserves.
During his tenure, Governor Milliken, a Republican, served alongside a Democratic legislature. But his commitment to working across the aisle to get things done never wavered – in fact, when I was serving in the House of Representatives my dad first introduced me to Governor Milliken at an event at the Detroit Opera theatre, he said ‘Bill this is my daughter, Gretchen. She’s a state senator and a Milliken Republican.’ The governor’s eyes lit up. Due to the advent of the tea party and changing dynamics of the Republican party, there were fewer and fewer ‘Milliken Republicans.’ The Governor seemed pleased and a tad incredulous. He replied ‘you are?’ And my dad said – ‘yeah, she’s a Democrat.’ We all guffawed.
During his 1972 State of the State Address, the governor said ‘Divided government carries with it a mandate from the people to act with wisdom, to work together, to seek ways to reach honorable compromise. If both parties take this approach, then the public interest will be served, both parties will gain, and the entire state will benefit.’
As I work to navigate today’s divided government and to solve problems for the people of Michigan, Governor Milliken’s words still ring true. In the era of vast political polarization in which we currently live, we cannot forget that sentiment. Governor Milliken taught us that our love for Michigan and our commitment to the people who call it home must transcend politics. He taught us that we are Michiganders first, and we must do everything we can to find common ground for the betterment of our state.
In preparing for this occasion I spoke with some of those still amongst us who worked for or with the Governor. Perhaps no one worked more closely with him than our Eternal General, Frank J. Kelley, who served as the state’s Attorney General for nearly 40 years, and despite their different political parties, worked closely with the Governor during his entire 14-year tenure.
‘I’ve worked with lots of people in my life,’ Mr. Kelley said. ‘And I can assure you that Bill Milliken was a different kind of guy in almost every positive sense. He was a sweet fellow who seemed that he’d rather be kind than be right. A true gentleman who lived by Lincoln’s law that the best way to defeat an enemy is to make a friend out of him.’
Attorney General Kelley went on: ‘People say we need more civility in government today. They are right. My friend Bill Milliken knew that real change can’t come from brute force. Rather, real change comes from recognizing that nobody has the one right answer all of the time, and that it is often more important to listen than to speak. Bill Milliken knew these things. Bill Milliken lived these things. And besides being a good governor and a great man, Bill Milliken was among the best friends I have ever had.’
So on this day that we again say goodbye to Governor William Milliken, let us be conscious of the fact that his many contributions live on. And let’s pray that his spirit of sweetness, generosity, tolerance, civility and love of this state has not been, and will not be forgotten. As a public servant and as a lifelong Michigander, I’m proud to have learned from Governor Milliken, and I know that long after I’m gone, the influence he had on our state will remain intact. My love and support goes out to the governor’s family on this day. May we all continue to learn from the lessons Governor Milliken taught us.”