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Gilligan: Man of faith and ‘study in contrasts’

Statehouse tribute honors late ex-governor


U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius walks past a portrait of her father, former Ohio governor and congressman John J. Gilligan during a memorial service at the Ohio Statehouse Thursday in Columbus. Gilligan died last week at the age of 92.


COLUMBUS — A decorated World War II hero who opposed the war in Vietnam. A well-to-do governor who championed a new tax to meet the needs of the poor and mentally ill. A man of faith who ensured his children had a Catholic education, but also championed public schools.

John Joyce “Jack” Gilligan “was a study in contrasts,” his daughter, Kathleen Sebelius, said Thursday as a current governor, two former governors, and politicians from both sides of the aisle gathered at the Statehouse to remember the man who spent just four years in the building four decades ago.

“He was a serious thinker who used humor to defuse tension and dismantle opponents,” said Ms. Sebelius, President Obama’s secretary of health and human services and a former Kansas governor.

She noted that her father once presented feminist and Toledo native Gloria Steinem with the Ohio Man of the Year Award.

Mr. Gilligan, a liberal Irish Catholic Democrat, died Aug. 26 at the age of 92.

After Wednesday’s events in Cincinnati, which focused on his roles in that city as a member of Congress, city council, and school board, attention turned Thursday at the Statehouse to his policies as governor and his willingness to risk it all for a cause.

Mark Shields, the political columnist and commentator who worked on two Gilligan campaigns, recalled his decision to create Ohio’s first personal income tax to invest in education and care for the mentally ill.

“ ‘What is needed in Ohio is a massive increase in state spending on public education,’ and that’s a quote,” Mr. Shields said. “How about that, sports fans? No B.S. about magically finding missing funds from waste, fraud, and abuse ...

“Jack lost in 1974, and, please, let me assure you from repeated personal experiences, a losing campaign does not build character,” he said. “But very often a losing campaign does reveal character.”

In the crowd were Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic former Govs. Ted Strickland and Dick Celeste. Not present were the three surviving Republican former governors — George Voinovich, Bob Taft, and Nancy Hollister, who served 11 days in 1999.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) also cited Mr. Gilligan’s “courage” in ushering Ohio’s first income tax through a Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“He promised to do it. He did it. It cost him his governorship,” he said. “The war hero did his duty to his state and to his nation.”

Mr. Celeste was the sole Democratic governor to win a second term.

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.

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