Michigan’s late Governor William G. Milliken will be celebrated at a public memorial on August 6, 2020, at Interlochen Center for the Arts. To honor the Milliken legacy, FLOW has launched the “Helen & William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water.” FLOW is also publishing a series of video interviews between now and August 6 that feature those who best knew the Governor and his late wife Helen.
Gov. Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor, was known for his environmental stewardship and civility in politics. During his tenure in office from 1969 until 1983, Gov. Milliken provided critical support for Michigan’s 10-cent beverage container deposit law, expanded state funding for recreation and parks programs in Detroit, and signed the state’s landmark Michigan Environmental Protection Act, as well as laws to protect sand dunes, control hazardous waste, and promote recycling. Gov. Milliken passed away in October 2019 in his native and beloved Traverse City. He was preceded in his passing by Helen, herself a champion of environmental stewardship and the women’s rights movement.
Check out those testimonial videos below:
“The bottle bill was one of the most significant environmental initiatives (of my father’s tenure), and we led the the nation with it,” said their son Bill Milliken, Jr. “They went out at one point and collected a mile of highway litter and brought it into the cabinet room in Lansing to show the media that there was an issue with waste along our highways.” Milliken, Jr., also remembered his mother Helen’s activism. “When the Republican convention was held in Detroit in 1980, my father was on the floor speaking at the convention and my mother was in the street outside Cobo Hall protesting that the platform hadn’t accomodated women’s issues in the way she felt it needed to.”
“I first knew Bill and Helen when Bill was running for office back in the ’70s,” said Ann Rogers, co-chair of NMEAC (Northwest Michigan Environmental Action Council). “I thought he was a prince of a person who really cared about the environment, women’s issues, and the bottle deposit bill. There were so many things that he sponsored.”
“To me, Governor Milliken was the epitome of what a public servant is,” said longtime policy advisor Bill Rustem. “Not a politician, but a public servant. Someone who thought generations down the road and said ‘if we do this policy today, it will mean this much for our children, and to their children, and to their children.’ That was the way he thought. His legacy lives on.”
Governor William G. and Helen Milliken “came into office at a time when strict environmental regulation was really needed, and they had many opportunities to shape the landscape, especially in Michigan,” says Zoe Gum, a Traverse City native and FLOW’s Milliken policy intern for summer 2020. “Their work to develop the bottle return policy in Michigan was really incredible. That shaped everyone’s lives. I wouldn’t be returning bottles every other week if it wasn’t for them.”
“Most people think that moderate politics is without any true conviction or feeling—it’s sort of in the mushy middle,” said Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy advisor and author of the biography, William G. Milliken, Michigan’s Passionate Moderate. “But for him, being a moderate was an intense and fierce belief that by being a moderate in the middle he could craft policies that could benefit everybody.”
“Bill and Helen both had an impressive capacity to connect with people of all ages and even with young people,” said Dr. Terrie Taylor, a world renowned malaria researcher, Traverse City native and longtime Milliken family friend. “I think that’s partly because they were so broad-minded and also non-judgmental in their approach. But also both of them had very lively senses of humor, and they could pick up on funny little quirks in situations that, I think, especially young people found endearing and perhaps more approachable.”