Hundreds attend services for former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan

CINCINNATI -- Many Tri-Staters took time out Wednesday to reflect on a man who dedicated more than 50 years of his life to Cincinnati, the state of Ohio and the country, 9 On Your Side’s Lisa Smith reported.

John Gilligan left a legacy of caring, whether he was serving as Ohio’s governor, a U.S. congressman, a member of the Cincinnati School Board, a teacher or just being a father.

"Cincinnati was always in his heart,” Ellen Gilligan said about her dad on the day of his funeral.

Her parents never wanted to be anywhere else, she said.

“They always had a place here that they would come to as often as possible.  And then, as soon as he retired from Notre Dame, there was only one place they wanted to be.'

Ellen Gilligan said politics was in his blood.

“We thought the family sport was putting out yard signs and passing out leaflets,” she said.

Ellen and her older sister Kathleen are following in their dad’s footsteps.  Ellen heads a community foundation in Milwaukee while Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of Kansas, is the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Gilligan was an advocate for people who needed one, Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Tyrone Yates said.

"I'll never forget as a young person watching him say that he was going to work very hard on helping the mentally ill, who were at that time in 1970 virtually warehoused,” Yates said.

Several hundred people attended a morning funeral Mass for the Cincinnati native at St. Francis de Sales Catholic church in East Walnut Hills. Gilligan's wife and children led the processional into the church where he was baptized in 1921.

Another large crowd paid its respects at an afternoon visitation at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Gilligan will also be honored in Columbus on Thursday in a program at the Ohio Statehouse.

Gilligan’s ties to the community and commitment to education were very strong. He was a teacher before he entered politics and served on the Cincinnati school board for eight years after his one term as governor.

"Gilligan was terribly committed to public education and felt strongly about that, and how you could convert schools into community centers and use them more than just the ways that traditionally they were used for classrooms, but to use them to educate not just kids but adults as well," said Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chair.

The 92-year-old decorated World War II veteran died at his Cincinnati home on Aug. 26.

Gilligan, a liberal Democrat, won creation of the state income tax to rescue public education at a time of economic peril.

Gilligan became the state's 62nd governor in 1970, a year in which Republicans suffered from a loan scandal in the state treasurer's office.

He inherited a school funding problem in which 24 districts had closed for lack of operating money and more were expected to follow suit.

Gilligan persuaded legislators to enact the state's first corporate and personal income tax in 1971 to raise money for dealing with those and other government priorities.

Beginning in 1953, Gilligan served seven terms on Cincinnati City Council. In 1964 he was elected to represent Ohio's 1st Congressional District.

After he left the governor's mansion in 1975, Gilligan served in President Jimmy Carter's administration as head of the Agency for International Development.

And in 1999, at age 78, he ran for Cincinnati Board of Education and served two four-year terms.

Lynn Marmer, a Kroger Co. vice president who served on the board with Gilligan, recalled the experience fondly.

"God love him, he ran for school board after he was governor and already had a long, distinguished career," Marmer said. "He did it out of a motivation to do something good for the kids."

Marmer said she and other school board members initially felt intimidated by his background. "We called him governor, because that's who he was to us," Marmer said. "We were awestruck, but he quickly became just another board member. He had great humility and that's pretty rare."

Read WVXU veteran political reporter Howard Wilkinson's column on the man he calls "an unabashed, unapologetic liberal, seemingly oblivious to whether or not it cost or gained him votes" here:

"He was incredibly sharp. Jack was as serious and as attentive and as dedicated a school board member you could have," Marmer said, referring to Gilligan by his nickname. "He went to every graduation, every opening and every event. This wasn't ceremonial for him, he really rolled up his sleeves."

David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for Ohio attorney general, knew Gilligan when both were serving in local political offices.

"Gov. Gilligan was one of the first people to help guide me when I initially ran for office. And I was honored to work with him when we served simultaneously on City Council and Cincinnati School Board," Pepper said.

"But I am not alone. Gov. Gilligan was both an inspiration and a mentor to so many wishing to be involved in public service.

He will be deeply missed."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff from Gilligan's death until Wednesday.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Gov. Gilligan," Kasich said. "He served with honor and distinction, and my family’s thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”

State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale) praised Gilligan's lengthy record of public service.

“I am honored to have known former Gov. John Gilligan for a long time. He was a fantastic man who cared deeply about his hometown of Cincinnati and the entire state of Ohio," Kerney said. "It is testimony to his enduring commitment to public service that he served on the Cincinnati school board into his 80s.

"My sympathies go out to his entire family at this moment of great loss," Kearney added. "All Ohioans should be sad at the passing of such a committed and caring public servant.”

Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, recalled Gilligan as a politician who took risks to serve the greater good.

“Former Gov. Gilligan had the courage to stand up for all Ohioans, including the mentally handicapped and disadvantaged, at a deep cost to his own future," Redfern said. "Ohio is a better place because of John Gilligan’s selfless commitment to our state, and we all owe him a debt of thanks.”

President Obama also praised Gilligan's serve to his country and state.

"Jack Gilligan lived his life in service to his fellow Americans, especially those in his home state of Ohio and across the United States who were left out or left behind. During World War II, he earned a Silver Star for his bravery at Okinawa, and he never stopped serving his country - as a congressman, where he helped enact historic legislation from the Voting Rights Act to Medicare and Medicaid, and then as governor of Ohio."


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