The life and political career of arguably Michigan’s most popular governor was remembered Thursday.
In adherence of the state’s social distancing recommendations due to the COVID-19 virus, the memorial service for former Gov. William G. Milliken was held at the 4,000-seat, open-air Kresge Auditorium in the Interlochen Center for the Arts in northwestern Michigan.
Milliken died in October at his home in Traverse City after years of declining health. He was 97.
The service had been scheduled to be held at the Milliken Auditorium at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City but was changed to Interlochen, which allows better social distancing in a safer setting.
Milliken had been an advocate for the arts in Michigan and served from 1983-1997 on the Interlochen board.
Face coverings were required to be worn during the service.
A Republican, Milliken also was popular with Democrats. He shared a good relationship with longtime Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, a Democrat.
“So on this day that we say goodbye to Gov. Milliken, let us be cognizant of the fact that many of his contributions live on,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during the service. “Let’s pray that his spirit of sweetness and generosity and tolerance has not been and will not be forgotten.”
Milliken was promoted in 1969 to governor from lieutenant governor following the resignation of Gov. George Romney. Milliken later was elected governor and won two re-elections. He retired from politics in 1982.
“He didn’t call people juvenile names,” said Bill Rustem, a former policy advisor. “He didn’t threaten, he was not petty. He didn’t bully and he rejected the lure of hyper-partisanship.”
Milliken graduated from Yale University in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He earned a Purple Heart and other medals during World War II after several harrowing missions that included bailing out of a damaged B-24 bomber.
He took a turn running Milliken’s Department Store in Traverse City, founded in 1873 by his grandfather, James W. Milliken.