Bill Denihan, a go-to public servant for decades, dies at 85

Bill Denihan, who led Cuyahoga County's Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board from its creation in 2009 until 2017, died Monday at 85.
Bill Denihan, who led Cuyahoga County's Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board from its creation in 2009 until 2017, died Monday at 85. [File image / Ideastream Public Media]

In a long public service career with many acts, Bill Denihan served a governor, a mayor and even ran for the top Cleveland City Hall job himself. He died Monday at the age of 85.

Denihan worked his way up in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, becoming state claims director in 1977.

In the 1980s, Gov. Richard Celeste named him to several top assignments as state personnel director, executive director of the State Employment Relations Board and highway safety director.

After Michael R. White was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1989, he hired Denihan as the city’s director of public services. Denihan later became the city’s safety director, serving stints as acting police chief, too.

He did it all without a bachelor’s degree, finally earning his B.A. from Cleveland State University in 1998 when he was 61. Denihan once joked to The Plain Dealer that, as the city’s safety director taking CSU’s safety administration class, he “had to walk out of there with an A.”

He left the White administration to lead the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services. In 2001, when White opted not to seek a fourth term, Denihan entered the crowded race to replace him. In the primary, Denihan finished fifth out of 10 candidates.

After the election, the trustees of the Cuyahoga County Community Mental Health board hired him as chief executive.

He led the board through its merger with the addiction services agency, becoming executive director of the combined Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board in 2009. He retired in 2017 at the age of 80.

Denihan was a father of 11 in a blended family with his wife Mary. He was also a painter. Cleveland State University will showcase his work this Thursday.

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