Former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan Remembered in Memorial Service at Statehouse

Congressional headshot of  John Gilligan, who later served as Ohio governor (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Congressional headshot of John Gilligan, who later served as Ohio governor (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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Former Gov. John Gilligan’s 1974 campaign ad continues to play inside the Ohio Statehouse museum.

“We had 122,000 Ohio children put out on the sidewalk and told -- in effect -- that we didn’t have enough money to educate them," Gilligan says in the video. "What we did have was a state government that was unwilling to deal with the problem and to raise the money necessary."

The commercial focuses on Gilligan’s push for a state income tax, which helped pay for many aspects like education. And it’s arguably the most memorable impact from his time in office.

“There hasn’t been a single Ohio child who’s lost a day’s schooling because of lack of financial aid from the state of Ohio during the last three years," he says.

Friends and family gathered at the Statehouse for a memorial service to celebrate the Gilligan’s life.

Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and others who knew the former governor would say the biggest impact he made on the state was not just the income tax, but the guts it took to push for such measures even when they weren’t popular, and even if it cost him re-election.

“John Gilligan -- more than any other politician I’ve ever met had the courage to always do what’s right," Brown said. "It probably cost him his governor’s race, but he believed in service. And he was a hero of mine back then and still is.”

This was a sentiment echoed throughout the service, and a trait noted by Gilligan’s daughter, Kathleen Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas who now serves as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I think he had incredible moral courage to identify the things that needed to be done and -- regardless of the political cost to him -- take these issues to the voters, talk about them, fight for them," Sebelius said. "He always felt it wasn’t about whether you won or lost an election, it was really all about what you could do when you got there. What kind of difference you could make.”

All of Gilligan’s children spoke during the service, including Ellen Gilligan, the youngest of the group. Aside from his legacy as governor, they told the crowd about his qualities as a father, as a public servant, and as a member of the Navy during World War II. Gilligan’s Irish roots were also celebrated through music.

“So today, we will celebrate dad’s life," Ellen Gilligan said. "We will raise a toast to a great man. And we will laugh and cry at the memories. But tomorrow, we will rise again, dry our tears, and carry on the fight. That’s what dad’s legacy means to all of us. There is so much work to be done.”

Governor John Gilligan was 92 years old when he passed away. He continued his passion for public service all the way up to 2007 when he sat on the Cincinnati Board of Education. And while he did lose his re-election bid in 1974, his campaign ad serves as a reminder that he never shied away from a fight and he never ran away from the big issues.

“We think the people of Ohio want good schools for their children," Gilligan says in the ad. "They’re willing to pay for them, they’ve paid for them and they’re going to get it.”

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