Remembering U.S. Senator George Voinovich who died at the age of 79

Posted at 10:34 PM, Jun 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 06:21:36-04

Years ago when the State of Ohio had to cut welfare benefits because the state was in a tough financial situation, the governor shed tears.  It was obvious the decision to make the cuts which could not be avoided cut deeply into his very soul. 

WEWS-TV5 camerman Tom Livingston was the man behind the lens when his camera recorded the tears of George Voinovich.  "His voice broke as he explained what had to be done and then he shed a few tears before walking away," said Livingston.

As an elected official for 40 years, George Voinovich cared deeply for the people he represented.  When the news was announced of his death at the age of 79, shock waves rippled through the halls of government in Cleveland, Columbus, and Washington, D.C.

"I never looked at you father as a peer," said Ohio Gov. John Kasich in comments directed to the Voinovich children.  "I looked upon him as a mentor," added Kasich.  He was one of the speakers at a service in Cleveland City Hall.  That building was one of the places Voinovich loved, but only because it represented the people of his beloved city.

George Voinovich was born July 15, 1936, in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland.  He continued to maintain a home in that neighborhood on the northeast side of the city until his death.  He was always committed to the people who elected him to office.  There were many elections which took him from local to state to national government.  He was credited as being one of the chief architects of the "comeback" of Cleveland.

When Voinovich, a Republican, ran against the incumbent Democrat Mayor Dennis Kucinich in 1979, the city had fallen into financial default.  There were outstanding loans the city could not repay.  When the notes were called in during the Kucinich administration, the city fell into financial default.  Voinovich ran and won the Cleveland City Hall seat.

For his two terms as mayor, he was the only elected Republican in city hall.  During that time, there were 33 members of the city council.  All of them were Democrats, but Voinovich was able to form strong partnerships with the legislators, especially with then-council president George Forbes.  Many city hall observers praised the "two Georges" for working together most of the time for the sake of turning around the city.

From that point, Cleveland began the slow process of rebuilding itself.  At the service for Voinovich, former Ohio Speaker of the House Joann Davidson praised the man from the Collinwood neighborhood.  "Just look around today and you can see the influence George Voinovich carried in the renaissance of Cleveland," she said.

From Cleveland, Voinovich went on to serve two terms as Governor followed by two terms in the U.S.  Senate.  When he left Capitol Hill, it was because he longed for more time with his wife, Janet, and their family.

President Obama sent words of sympathy to the Voinovich family and praised Voinovich for his strength in government and his humility as a public servant. 

During the service at City Hall, several of the speakers referred to phrases often heard from Voinovich during his long years in public service.  "Together we can do it," "Make do with less," and "Work harder and smarter" were phrases often uttered and written by the man whose first election was that of Student Body president at Ohio University. 

It was there in the 1950s, Voinovich told friends one day he wanted to be elected mayor of Cleveland.  Early on, he understood the importance of serving people.  George Voinovich never wavered from that philosophy.

At 10 a.m. Friday, there will be a funeral mass at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, 19951 Lakeshore Blvd., Cleveland.  Burial will be at All Souls Cemetery.