U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius didn’t always know how different her father, former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, was from other dads.
During a memorial service for the late Democratic governor and congressman, Sebelius said Thursday that she thought most families spent the fall season knocking on doors, putting out yard signs and campaigning.
“No one ever told us that politics was a voluntary activity,” explained Sebelius, a former Kansas governor.
The Cabinet secretary to President Barack Obama and her three siblings recounted the lessons they learned from their father at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Governors, state lawmakers and members of the public were invited to celebrate the life of 92-year-old political leader and decorated World War II veteran.
Gilligan died at home on Aug. 26. He was Ohio governor from 1971 to 1975 and also served in the U.S. House, on Cincinnati city council, and the Cincinnati Board of Education.
Sebelius recalled her father once telling her that she’d have to enter a witness-protection program to have a successful political career. Move to a new state, get a new name and then run for office, he had said.
But she followed him into politics anyway and they became the first father-daughter pair of governors in the country.
“I learned an enormous amount from his political career and his political courage,” Sebelius said.
Gilligan’s creation of a state income tax in the face of a funding crunch for schools and other government priorities was a lasting accomplishment — and the undoing of his political career.
Elected in 1970, he also presided over creation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, passage of strip mine reclamation laws and division of the prison and mental health agencies into separate departments.
Gilligan was born March 22, 1921, in Cincinnati. He served as a Navy gunnery officer in World War II, earning a Silver Star for saving several crew members from the destroyer USS Rodman after enemy shells set it ablaze off Okinawa.
His political career began in 1953 with his election to Cincinnati City Council. Later in life he returned to local public service as a school board member.
Sebelius said the best way to keep her father’s memory alive was to laugh, love well and “to continue to serve, to give voice to those who need someone to speak up for them and a place at the table for those who are pushed aside.”
Gilligan’s body has been donated to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.