In remembrance of Governor John “Jack” Gilligan (Mar 22, 1921 – Aug. 26, 2013)
Gilligan was a champion for public schools and the mentally ill during his tenure from 1971 to 1975. He also beefed up state treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse, mental retardation and mental illness.
Talbert House was proud to honor the Governor as Father of the Year at the Fatherhood Celebration Luncheon in June 2012. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Honorable Kathleen Sebelius accepted the award on behalf of her father and shared his message of faith, family, and service being key to shaping his life and the lives of his children.
by Margy W.
Governor John Gilligan was an inspiring, smiling, marvelous person. And certainly the best politician I’ve ever known.
Back in 1992, after my candidate won the right to move into the White House, some of us kids who’d worked on the campaign in Hamilton County wanted to put together a progressive, issues-based, social organization to extend the fun we’d had working together on the campaign. But our elders warned us that this might be threatening to a certain former Congressman who controlled one of the local political organizations. So: we were committed, but cautious, about pursuing our cause.
We figured that having former Governor, Congressman, and member of City Council — THE Jack Gilligan — serve on our newly forming board would provide us with some serious credibility, not to mention cover. So, we asked him if he would be willing to join us.
The Governor had some questions — about the goals and mission of the Democratic Forum. Good questions. And apparently we had satisfactory answers, because he agreed. This was major. Though we thought he might just be lending his name to our cause, he came to meetings. And he contributed. And he pushed us to do good things, to be true to our purpose, and not to compromise our ideals.
When we had a debate about a strategic move and the Governor thought we were being too cautious, he would quietly remind us of our answers to his questions about goals and mission, saying: “What’s the name of this organization again?” And that would be that.
In recent days, we’ve all been reading about the good he accomplished for Ohioans as Governor, and about his humble runs for precinct executive and Cincinnati School Board, decades after leaving the Governor’s mansion.
But there are a few other reasons that Jack Gilligan is my hero:
- He lost his run for Congress in 1966 when redistricting benefited the candidate of the other party, which meant he only served for one term. But he liked to point out that the 89th Congress accomplished some pretty sweet stuff for all of us. He was proud to have been there when Congress passed the laws creating Medicaid – providing guaranteed health care to low-wage workers and others without insurance, Medicare for seniors, and the Voting Rights Act. “If you’re only going to have two years, what a great two years to be there, right?” he said.
- In 1996, he spoke publicly and passionately about his objections to investing in stadiums when our region’s housing market was failing to meet the needs for all citizens, particularly those whose jobs paid very little. He didn’t mind a bit that there was significant political pressure, and many of the region’s leaders had already signed up, to support the proposed (at the time) sales tax for the stadiums. The Governor simply and respectfully questioned the priorities of these leaders.
- In 2000, when the Supreme Court ruled that Al Gore would not be moving into the White House, where I was working on domestic policy, the Governor wrote a thoughtful note to my father. “What so many people fail to realize when someone loses an election, is that it’s not just the executive who leaves office. Staffers like Margy who are doing important work all across the administration also have to leave, which means our society loses a great deal of experience at all levels of government.” Of course, the Governor would know only too well the pain of losing an executive position. He lost the Governor’s race after creating and defending a state income tax, and closing the state parks to deal with budget issues. (Though history credits him for taking these steps and making Ohio a much more competitive state today.) I’ve never heard another executive talk about political loss in quite the same humble way.
Jack Gilligan was funny, passionate, committed, inspiring, and a proud father and grandfather who was truly fun to watch in action. One of my favorite memories is a holiday party where the Governor and his extended family – children, grandchildren, a few lucky others sat together around a table after eating, wearing funny hats, talking politics, and so clearly enjoying each others company. It was a great honor to know and learn from him. And so much fun to be at that table with all of them.
Articles related to post:
The Columbus Dispatch
Written by Margy W. Margy is senior fellow at Topos Partnership and Serendipity Director of Art on the Streets. In 1992, she and some friends founded the Democratic Forum. Since then, she spent time living and working in Washington DC, including at United Way of America with Jack Gilligan’s daughter Ellen, and as senior advisor in the Clinton-Gore White House.