George Weeks dies, leaving a legacy of political insight on Michigan

Richard Burr and Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
George Weeks

Former Detroit News political columnist George Weeks died on Friday in Traverse City at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of political insight on the Great Lakes State.

Weeks was an influential member of Michigan's political scene as a former United Press International reporter, a close aide to Republican Michigan Gov. William Milliken for 14 years and a News columnist. He is a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. 

"I've never heard anybody say a bad word about George. Whether he was working as press secretary or chief of staff or later as a political reporter," said Bob Berg, who worked with Weeks when he was chief of staff to Milliken after Berg became press secretary in 1977.

"He was very thorough, very fair. He wanted to make sure he got it right. He was just a tireless worker."

Weeks had a strong love for Michigan and its history, Berg said. And no one, he said, Republican or Democrat, ever complained about Weeks as a journalist.

Weeks wrote a book called "Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan" that is considered "one of the all-time great resources in Michigan government and politics," tweeted Zach Gorchow, editor of the Gongwer subscription news service that covers Michigan politics.

George Weeks, seen outside the state Capitol in 1996, began covering Michigan politics in 1954 for UPI.

After leaving government, he became a columnist for The News, where he was the go-to source for observations about high-profile and more obscure elected officials throughout the Great Lakes State. He retired from The News in 2006 after 22 years at the newspaper.

Weeks kept writing a column in retirement that often ran in the Traverse City Record Eagle. 

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, tweeted Monday that she was "fortunate to have known George for many years. He really set the standard for journalistic integrity and had a deep understanding of Michigan politics."

Weeks put the initial 2008 jailing of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in perspective, noting that former mayors Richard W. Reading in the late 1930s and Louis C. Miriani from 1958 to 1962 were separately imprisoned on tax evasion charges following their terms in office.

Reading also was convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges and was nicknamed "Double Dip Dick" because of alleged payoffs he took from gamblers, Weeks said.

"I worked with George at ⁦‪@detroitnews⁩ and valued his vast knowledge, gentle wit, quiet lessons, and his passionate commitment to government, journalism and relationships," tweeted Alan Stamm, a former News assistant city editor and current editor at Deadline Detroit.

Weeks first began covering Michigan politics in 1954 for UPI when "Democratic Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams was jousting with a GOP-ruled Legislature in troubled times," he wrote in his final column. Williams grew so frustrated with GOP legislators that he called them "Neanderthals," Weeks said.

He would later become a Detroit radio and news editor and Lansing bureau chief for UPI as well as a diplomatic correspondent and foreign editor in Washington, D.C.

Berg said the transition for Weeks from reporting to working for state government "was very seamless because he brought the same skill set."

Weeks ended up covering the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.

Detroit News columnist George Weeks, right, talks with vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp during an interview in Grand Rapids on Sept 24, 1996.

"I'll never forget standing in the roped-off press section at JFK's gravesite, next to an assemblage of the world's most titled leaders, seeing French President Charles de Gaulle, wearing a simple khaki uniform that recalled his service in two world wars, hold a firm salute," he wrote. "Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, wearing a dark uniform with a broad sash and big boards on his narrow shoulders, wiped a tear from his eye." 

Weeks then left journalism to become a part of the Milliken administration. He began as a press secretary in 1969, then moved on to become a member of special counsel in 1974 and finally, chief of staff in 1975.

“I believe George’s integrity, trustworthiness and candor are why he is among the few reporters who have been able to move into public service and then return successfully to journalism with their credibility intact,” Milliken said when Weeks was inducted into the hall of fame.  

Service arrangements are pending, according to the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City.

But Weeks never lost his fascination for the Michigan political scene, offering observations about departed officials when reporters called.

As he wrote in his final 2006 column, "I recall with awe the big events and larger-than-life people I've encountered, and marvel at the power of human character, leadership and charisma."