William G. Milliken, Michigan Governor in a Transformative Era, Dies at 97

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Under Mr. Milliken’s stewardship, tourism and recreation became Michigan’s third-largest generator of wealth, behind manufacturing and agriculture.

William Grawn Milliken was born in Traverse City on March 26, 1922, to a family of business and political leaders. His grandfather, James W. Milliken, founded J.W. Milliken Inc., a department store that grew into a small chain; he also served a two-year term as a Republican state senator in the last years of the 19th century.

Mr. Milliken’s father, James Thacker Milliken, was a liberal Republican and a conservationist who expanded the family business and served five terms as state senator. His mother, Hildegarde (Grawn) Milliken, the daughter of the president of Central Michigan University, was a cultured University of Michigan graduate who became politically active as a member of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom and for a time operated an antiques store.

William Milliken followed his father to Yale, though his undergraduate career was interrupted when he joined the Army Air Forces in World War II and served on an estimated 50 dangerous missions as a waist-gunner on B-24 bombers. Two of the bombers crashed, one on takeoff and the other while landing. He bailed out of a third that had been hit by enemy fire, and he was wounded in the stomach by flak. Mr. Milliken rose to the rank of staff sergeant and received several medals, including the Purple Heart.

In 1945, after his return from service, he married Helen Wallbank, whom he had met when she was student at Smith College in Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in 1946. Besides their son, the couple had a daughter, Elaine Wallbank Milliken, who became a public defender in Detroit and died of cancer in 1993 at 45.

Mr. Milliken won his first political campaign in 1960, winning the same State Senate seat that his father and grandfather had held. He was re-elected in 1962 and served as Senate majority floor leader. In 1965 he was elected lieutenant governor.

Mr. Milliken’s disenchantment with the Republican Party continued into his later years. Though he endorsed Senator John McCain, a Republican, in the 2008 presidential race, he also supported a number of Democrats in Michigan, including Jennifer Granholm in her 2006 campaign for governor.


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