Tim Skubick: Remembering former Mich. first lady Helen Milliken
William and Helen Milliken (WJBK)
By Tim Skubick FOX 2 Political Analyst
LANSING, Mich. (WJBK) -- After her beloved husband was elected governor, first lady Helen Milliken was content to work on her landscaping degree at Michigan State as she applied what she learned in the massive gardens on the grounds of the executive residence in Lansing. She remained backstage while Gov. Bill Milliken garnered all the attention. True, she was a trusted advisor but you never really knew it. That lasted for about four years and then the metamorphous slowly commenced.
It began with a conversation with Joyce Braithwaite, a charter member of the Gov. Milliken inner circle. Was it time for Mrs. Milliken to appear on TV to talk about issues other than the gardenias in the back yard? Turns out it was and from there, as they say, the rest is history.
The passing of Helen Milliken saddens the hearts of those who knew her, cared for her, and loved her from afar for who she was and what she passionately stood for; namely a naturing of the environment and the naturing of half the American population, women.
Milliken was on the cutting edge of the effort to grant equal rights to women which is why she made her debut on 'Off the Record' so many years ago.
A nervous Ms. Braithwaite sat in the director's booth as Mrs. Milliken dazzled. She was insightful, humorous, stood her ground when reporters stuck their nose where it did not belong, and she walked out of the studio and launched into a new phase of her life on the national stage.
Front and center in the push for the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment, the first lady left her flowers behind to advance women's rights and she did it with her usual grace and relentless strength. She took on the ultra-conservative men in her Republican Party and every time she gave them a "what for" women around the nation went, "right on." She lost that war but was now fully entrenched in the political world and enjoying it and she made a difference that lives on now that she has left the stage.
Airman Bill Milliken pursued Helen Wallbank for good reason; she was worth pursuing and their love was evident as they shared the spotlight. When she advanced the cause of stopping the oil drilling in the Pigeon River region of the state, she took hits in the media, but in a role reversal, there was the governor at her side defending her. And so it went as they journeyed together into presidential politics, (they often voted for the democrat), she helped hubby win two re-elections, and as a team their influence reached from Marquette to Monroe.
To say that she will be missed and that she was one of a kind falls way short because she deserves so much more. She was all the traits you wanted in a mom and spouse: Unconditional love, understanding, forgiving and eager to see you succeed and she became everything you wanted in a First Lady as she quietly rewrote the book on how to use that platform to advance the good of everyone.
Goodbye Mrs. Milliken and for the grieving Michigan that you leave behind, thank you for leaving the garden and sharing your unique wisdom, dedication, and passion with everyone. We are all the better for having known you. Peace also to the Governor and son Bill, Jr. as you carry on her grand and remarkable legacy.