William Milliken

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William Milliken
William Milliken 1969.png
44th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 22, 1969 – January 1, 1983
LieutenantThomas F. Schweigert (acting)
James H. Brickley
James Damman
James H. Brickley
Preceded byGeorge W. Romney
Succeeded byJim Blanchard
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
September 9, 1977 – August 29, 1978
Preceded byReubin Askew
Succeeded byJulian Carroll
54th Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1965 – January 22, 1969
GovernorGeorge W. Romney
Preceded byT. John Lesinski
Succeeded byThomas 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 partyRepublican
(m. 1945; died 2012)
RelativesJames W. Milliken (grandfather)
EducationYale University (BA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
RankArmy-USA-OR-06 (Army greens).svg Staff sergeant
UnitUS Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Battles/warsWorld 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.[a] 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. He also oversaw the PBB crisis and adopted a policy of environmental protection and conservation.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

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.[2] Milliken's paternal grandfather James W. Milliken had previously one term as a Michigan state senator from the 27th District, 1898–1900.[3]

After graduating magna cum laude from Traverse City Senior High School,[4][5][6] 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.[7][8]

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 back to Traverse City that year and he became president of J.W. Milliken, Inc., a department store founded by his grandfather, and later run by his father. Milliken's operated locations in Traverse City and Manistee.[9][10][11][12] Helen Milliken died at the age of 89 on November 16, 2012, at their Traverse City home, from ovarian cancer.[13]

Political career[edit]

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 54th 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 Rockefeller Republican. 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 absolute 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.[14]

Later life[edit]

After retiring from public office, Milliken moved back to Traverse City. He soon joined the board of directors of the Chrysler Corporation and chaired the Center for the Great Lakes, a research center dedicated to the protection of the Great Lakes.[15] He 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.[16]

In presidential elections since 2004, Miliken expressed support for several Democratic candidates. In 2004, he endorsed Democratic Senator John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush, stating "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."[17] In 2008, he endorsed Republican John McCain, 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."[18] 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.[19]

In Michigan state elections, Miliken supported candidates from both parties. In 2010, he endorsed businessman Rick Snyder in the Republican gubernatorial primary, and continued to support him in the general election.[20] In 2014, he endorsed Snyder for a second term.[21] In the 2014 Senate election, he supported Democrat Gary Peters over the Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land.[22]

In 2015, Milliken signed an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage.[23][19]


On October 18, 2019, Milliken died at his home in Traverse City after years of declining health.[8] His remains were cremated and buried on Mackinac Island next to wife, Helen and daughter, Elaine.[24] On August 6, 2020, he was honored with a memorial service at Interlochen Center for the Arts.[25][26]


  • In 1976, Governor Milliken was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Yale University, his alma mater.
  • In 2006, Dave Dempsey published a biography on Milliken titled, William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate.[27]
  • In fall 2009, the state of Michigan named a new state park (William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor), located on the riverfront in Detroit, in honor of the former governor.[28]
  • Rooms 290, 291, and 292 of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island are collectively known as the Milliken Suite. They are located at the east end of the second floor overlooking the golf course.


  1. ^ In 1992, the voters of Michigan approved a ballot initiative limiting governors to two terms for lifetime.


  1. ^ Lindstrom, John (March 30, 2016). "Two governors, two environmental disasters". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "William G. Milliken Biography" (PDF). Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  3. ^ "Index to Politicians profile". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved June 7, 2006.
  4. ^ "Michigan lawmakers honor former Gov. William G. Milliken". WZZM News. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  5. ^ "Michigan Legislative Biography". Library of Michigan. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  6. ^ Burgess, Patti Brandt (January 4, 2020). "Newsmakers: Longest-serving Michigan Gov. William Milliken dies". Traverse City Record-Eagle. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  7. ^ Downes, Robert (March 4, 2004). "The Very Best People". Northern Express. Traverse City. Archived from the original on October 22, 2021. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Livengood, Chad; Mauger, Craig (October 18, 2019). "Bill Milliken, Michigan's Longest-Serving Governor, Dies". The Detroit News. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  9. ^ Havey, Robert. "Milliken in the Middle". Bentley Historical Collection Magazine, University of Michigan. Michigan's longest-serving governor was a Republican renowned for reaching across the aisle to Democratic colleagues, and for making Michigan's environmental health a priority. His collection at the Bentley reveals a breed of politician that's nearly extinct.
  10. ^ "Then and Now". TC Arts Commission.
  11. ^ Geiger, Lynn (December 2007). "Downtown Die-Hards: Long-Time Shop Owners On What Sets TC Apart, What Changes They'd Like To See". Traverse City Business News.
  12. ^ "LOCAL HISTORY: Milliken's of Manistee". Manistee News Advocate. July 2, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  13. ^ Householder, Mike (November 16, 2012). "Helen Milliken, former Michigan first lady, dies at 89". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ "William G. Milliken papers". Bentley Historical Library. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  16. ^ Montemurri, Patricia (August 31, 2018). "When Detroit says goodbye: Historic funerals in the Motor City". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  17. ^ "Statement by William G. Milliken". Traverse City Record-Eagle. October 18, 2004. Archived from the original on October 21, 2004. Retrieved June 7, 2006.
  18. ^ Shellenbarger, Pat (October 10, 2008). "Former Governor Milliken Backs Away from McCain". The Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Gray, Kathleen (August 8, 2016). "Former Michigan Republican Gov. Milliken endorses Clinton over Trump". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  20. ^ Cranson, Jeff (July 22, 2010). "Rick Snyder Wins Endorsement from Former Gov. Bill Milliken". The Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  21. ^ Livengood, Chad (September 9, 2014). "Milliken endorses Snyder, which may boost effort to woo independents". The Detroit News. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  22. ^ Oosting, Jonathan (September 12, 2014). "Former Michigan Gov. Bill Milliken Backs Rick Snyder for Governor, Gary Peters for Senate". The Grand Rapids Press.
  23. ^ Miller, Zeke J. (April 5, 2015). "More than 300 Republicans Call on Supreme Court to Recognize Gay Marriage Nationally". Time. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  24. ^ "Former Michigan governor William Milliken dies at age 97". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. October 18, 2019. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  25. ^ Payette, Peter; Wanschura, Daniel. "Former Michigan Gov. Bill Milliken remembered today at Interlochen". Interlochen Public Radio. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  26. ^ "Memorial for Gov. William G. Milliken: Information for attendees" (Press release). Interlochen Center for the Arts. July 13, 2020. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  27. ^ William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-4721-1545-7.)
  28. ^ "William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor". Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved December 7, 2009.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
1964, 1966
Succeeded by
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan
1970, 1974, 1978
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Republican Governors Association
Succeeded by