William Milliken

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William Milliken
44th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 22, 1969 – January 1, 1983
Lieutenant Thomas F. Schweigert (acting)
James Brickley
James Damman
James Brickley
Preceded by George Romney
Succeeded by James Blanchard
54th Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1965 – January 22, 1969
Governor George Romney
Preceded by John Lesinski
Succeeded by Thomas F. Schweigert (acting)
Member of the Michigan Senate from the 27th district
In office
Personal details
Born William Grawn Milliken
(1922-03-26) March 26, 1922 (age 97)
Traverse City, Michigan, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Helen Wallbank (m. October 20, 1945–November 16, 2012; her death); 2 children
Alma mater Yale University
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1942–1945
Battles/wars World War II

William Grawn Milliken (born March 26, 1922), is an American politician who served as the 44th Governor of Michigan from January 22, 1969 to January 1, 1983.

Early life

Milliken was born in Traverse City, Michigan, the second child in a family familiar with the intricacies of 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) had been elected to the Traverse City school board; the first woman elected to public office there.[1] Milliken's paternal grandfather James W. also served as a Michigan State Senator from the 27th District, 1898-1900.[2]

Upon graduating from 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]

On October 20, 1945, one month after he was discharged honorably, he and Helen were married. 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 W. Milliken died, aged 89, on November 16, 2012 at her Traverse City home, following a battle with ovarian cancer.[4]

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 the 52nd Lieutenant Governor of Michigan from 1965 to 1969, and became governor after George W. Romney resigned from office to serve in President Richard Nixon's cabinet. He was subsequently elected to full four-year terms 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]

Milliken was governor for 14 years and is the longest-serving governor 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 had served for 12 years as governor from 1991 to 2003, making him the second Republican to serve three four-year terms alongside Milliken.

In December 1982, Milliken appointed Dorothy Comstock Riley to the Michigan Supreme Court to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Blair Moody. 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. Riley was elected to the court in 1985.[5]

Former governor

In 2004, Milliken broke with party ranks to endorse 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."[6]

He spoke at the funeral of former Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young in 1997. 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 "He is not the John McCain I endorsed."[clarification needed] Milliken voiced concern at 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."[7] In 2010, he endorsed businessman Rick Snyder in the Republican gubernatorial primary.[8]

In 2015, he signed an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage.[9]


  • 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. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press (ISBN 0472033638/ISBN 978-0472033638)
  • 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.[10]
  • 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. "William G. Milliken Biography" (PDF). Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 2012-11-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Index to Politicians profile". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2006-06-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Downes,Robert. "The Very Best People". Northern Express. Traverse City: northernexpress.com. Retrieved 2012-11-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Mike Householder (November 16, 2012). "Helen Milliken, former Michigan first lady, dies at 89". Detroit Free Press. freep.com. Retrieved 2012-11-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Dorothy Comstock Riley Passes Away at 79". State Bar of Michigan. October 25, 2004. Retrieved 2011-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Statement by William G. Milliken". Traverse City Record Eagle. 2004-10-18. Archived from the original on 2006-04-08. Retrieved 2006-06-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Pat Shellenbarger (October 10, 2008). "Former governor Milliken backs away from McCain". Grand Rapids Press. mLive.com. Retrieved 2012-11-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Cranson, Jeff (July 22, 2010). "Rick Snyder wins endorsement from former Gov. Bill Milliken". The Grand Rapids Press. mLive.com. Retrieved November 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Miller, Zeke J. (2015-04-05). "More Than 300 Republicans Call on Supreme Court to Recognize Gay Marriage Nationally". Time. Retrieved 2015-04-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor". Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 2009-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Party political offices
Preceded by
Clarence Reid
Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
1964, 1966
Succeeded by
James Brickley
Preceded by
George Romney
Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan
1970, 1974, 1978
Succeeded by
Richard Headlee
Political offices
Preceded by
John Lesinski
Lieutenant Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Schweigert
Preceded by
George Romney
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
James Blanchard
Preceded by
Reubin Askew
Chairperson of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Julian Carroll