Former Michigan Gov. Bill Milliken Dies At Age 97

WWJ News
October 18, 2019 - 6:17 pm

TRAVERSE CITY (WWJ/AP) - Michigan's longest-serving governor, William G. "Bill" Milliken, has died at age 97.

Family spokesman Jack Lessenberry said Milliken died Friday at his home in Traverse City.

Milliken was governor for 14 years until 1983. His style of bipartisan cooperation made him popular among voters and politicians in both major parties.

"He was a moderate Republican governor who proved that you could work with the other side, and you can do it in a respectful way," said WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick. "He was affectionately known in town as 'King William the Ethical,' because he was very ethical and he was a gentleman above all else." 

"Plus, he just understood the politics," Skubick said. "He understood that it was doing the people's business, and he was not in it for self-aggrandizement." 

Born in Traverse City, Milliken later attended Yale University. His studies were interrupted in 1943 by World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp. He had a career in the military and then in business before entering politics. 

Milliken was promoted to governor from lieutenant governor in 1969 when Gov. George Romney resigned to join President Richard Nixon's administration.

Milliken's priorities included civil rights, protecting the environment and helping Detroit as the city struggled with population loss and tumult in the auto industry. In 1972, he signed legislation creating the Michigan Lottery, which remains a source of cash for schools.

As governor, Milliken established a legacy of conservation and environmental protection. Michigan voters passed the bottle deposit bill in 1976, diverting from landfills an estimated 600,000 tons of container refuse annually. 

Milliken won three elections but didn't run again in 1982, retiring from politics at age 59. 

“Governor Milliken was a true statesman who led our state with integrity and honor," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a statement. 

"He had a unique ability to bring people from both sides of the aisle together for the betterment of Michigan. 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.” 

Read more about Milliken's legacy in a biography published by the state here, and stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 for continuing coverage. LISTEN LIVE!!