John Joyce Gilligan, Ohio’s 62nd governor, died Monday at his home in Cincinnati following a long illness. He was 92.
Gilligan served as Ohio’s governor from 1971 to 1975. The signal accomplishment of his term was passage through a Republican-controlled legislature of the state’s first corporate and individual income taxes. The funds produced were used to greatly expand state support for public education, mental health and other programs. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was established during his tenure. In what was widely viewed as an upset, Gilligan lost his 1974 re-election bid to Republican James Rhodes.
“He was a good man and a good governor,” former U.S. Congressman Tony Hall said. “He was not afraid to make difficult decisions on tough issues, especially education.”
Hall recalled Gilligan’s surprise at the reception of the crowd as the two campaigned together in the early 70s at the Ohio State Fair.
“He was so excited about the enthusiasm of the crowd,” Hall said. “I don’t think he realized how many people appreciated him.”
Gov. John Kasich ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff effective immediately until the day of Gilligan’s funeral.
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Gov. Gilligan. He served with honor and distinction, and my family’s thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time,” Kasich said in a released statement.
Senate Democratic Leader Eric H. Kearney (D-Cincinnati) said he was honored to know Gilligan for a long time.
“He was a fantastic man who cared deeply about his hometown of Cincinnati and the entire state of Ohio,” Kearney wrote in a prepared statement. “All Ohioans should be sad at the passing of such a committed and caring public servant.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp. said Gilligan served the state with passion and was a committed public servant.
“Ohioans of all political stripes are saddened by the news of his passing. I offer my deepest condolences to Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius and all of the members of the former governor’s family,” Boehner said.
The former governor was first attracted to public service by the 1952 presidential campaign of Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who captured Gilligan’s allegiance with his intelligence, eloquence and wit – qualities many later associated with Gilligan himself.
Gilligan first stood for public office in 1953, when he was elected to the first of seven terms on the Cincinnati City Council. In 1964, he won an upset victory as representative from Ohio’s First Congressional District.
A fourth-generation Cincinnatian, he was born on March 22, 1921, the son of Harry and Blanche Gilligan. Harry Gilligan was a prominent Cincinnati businessman and civic leader.
Gilligan graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1942 and served in the United States Navy during World War II as a destroyer gunnery officer. He was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry at Okinawa for actions taken when his ship came under a Japanese kamikaze attack.
While on leave in 1945, Gilligan returned to Cincinnati to marry the former Mary Kathryn (Katie) Dixon, daughter of a prominent local judge and political figure. She preceded him in death in 1996.
He is survived by his second wife, Dr. Susan Fremont; by four children from his first marriage; Donald, president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO) who lives in Salem, Massachusetts; Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and a former governor of Kansas; John P., an attorney in Columbus, Ohio; Ellen, President and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation; and by eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be scheduled.
Contributions may be made to Hospice of Cincinnati, 4360 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45242, or the John J. Gilligan Scholarship, Center for the American Dream, Xavier University, 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45207-1221.