Community mourns Helen Milliken

Helen Wallbank Milliken, who was Michigan's longest-serving first lady and a staunch supporter of women's rights and the environment, has died. She was 89.

Son William Milliken Jr. says she died Friday morning at the family's Traverse City home.

Early in her husband's political career, Milliken dutifully played the role of unassuming, supportive spouse. But she evolved into an outspoken advocate of issues close to her heart during a record 14 years as first lady.

She vigorously campaigned for abortion rights and the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment. She also drew the wrath of the outdoor advertising industry when she criticized highway billboards shortly after her husband, Republican William Milliken, became governor in 1969.

At her urging, her husband hiked the Pigeon River State Forest, where he later limited development.

Gov. Rick Snyder issued the following statement on the passing of former first lady Helen Milliken:

â??Sue and I join all Michiganders in mourning the loss of former first lady Helen Milliken. We were privileged to know Mrs. Milliken and her friendship, encouragement and guidance will always have a special place in our hearts.

Her contributions to Michigan are countless. As a champion of womenâ??s issues, patron of the arts and dedicated environmentalist, Mrs. Milliken lent her strong voice to causes that enrich our state to this day. Long after Gov. Bill Milliken left office, she remained a driving force for the betterment of Michigan, because she loved this state and believed in its future.

Mrs. Milliken set the standard for the next generation of first ladies. She embraced her role with dignity, strength and wisdom. She was the perfect partner for Gov. Milliken, sharing his commitment to principled leadership. The people of Michigan knew they had a partner in her as well.

We are forever indebted to Mrs. Milliken for all that she accomplished and all that she stood for. We should honor her memory by standing together as one Michigan and recommitting ourselves to reinventing this state so that our children will be proud to inherit it. On behalf of our great state, Sue and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Gov. Milliken and their son, Bill Jr.â??

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued the following statement:

â??Helen Milliken was a dynamic, opinionated and forceful First Lady. She epitomized strength. There was never a doubt where she stood. Through her words and actions, she redefined the role of First Lady.

I appreciated the service of Bill and Helen Milliken to our state. Cynthia and I extend our deepest sympathies to Governor Milliken and their son, Bill Jr.â??

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak issued the following statement:

â??On behalf of the Michigan Republican Party and Republicans throughout Michigan, our condolences are with Gov. Bill Milliken and the Milliken damily due to the loss of former first lady Helen Milliken.

â??Mrs. Milliken served our state honorably, both in the capacity of first lady and as a spokeswoman for numerous causes dear to her heart. Her commitment to Michigan, to protecting our natural resources and to promoting the arts will long be remembered. She was an outspoken and dignified leader and without a doubt, earned a place in the heart of many Michiganders.

â??I speak for all Republicans this morning, as we pause to remember Helen Milliken and offer our thoughts and prayers to Gov. Milliken and his family.â??

If you would like to leave a message for her family during this difficult time, please leave a comment below.