Michigan’s longest-serving Governor, William G. Milliken, dead at 97

Former Governor William G. Milliken passed away early Friday evening in his hometown of Traverse City while in hospice, a spokesman said. He was 97.

Milliken was Michigan’s longest-serving governor, in office for 14 years, from 1969 until 1983. His priorities included civil rights, and helping Detroit as the city struggled with population loss in the early 1970s. he worked closely with the late former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, who became the city’s first African American mayor in 1974.

“Governor Milliken was a true statesman who led our state with integrity and honor. He had a unique ability to bring people from both sides of the aisle together for the betterment of Michigan,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a statement. “We are a stronger, safer, more sustainable state because of his leadership and dedication to the people who call it home. I’ve always looked up to Governor Milliken as a trusted, respected leader and I’m proud to have called him a friend of the family. I extend my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Governor Milliken’s family for their loss. May we all continue to learn from his lifetime of service as we work together to build a stronger Michigan for everyone.”

Milliken was born March 22, 1922 in Traverse City, Michigan. He attended Yale after high school, but interrupted his studies to enlist U.S. Army. During World War II, he flew 50 combat missions as a waist-gunner on B-24 bombers and survived two crash landings. He received the Purple Heart Award.

He began his political career in 1960, as a state senator and became Gov. George Romney’s Lt. Gov. in 1965. In 1969, when Gov. Romney resigned to join President Richard Nixon’s administration, Milliken was promoted from Lt. Gov. to governor. Milliken subsequently won three elections but didn’t run again in 1982, retiring from politics after 14 years as Michigan’s chief executive, a feat that will never be matched.

His alliance with Young came as a surprise, since Young’s left-wing politics and combative style antagonized white conservatives. Milliken won him over by supporting state aid to Detroit as the city struggled with racial strife, white flight, and the auto industry’s tailspin during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

Milliken is survived by his son, William Jr. His wife, Helen, died of ovarian cancer in 2012, at age 89. His daughter Elaine died of cancer in 1993.

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