Ex-senator and Ohio governor George Voinovich remembered as a 'unifier'

The two-term governor of Ohio once broke into tears inside his office, saying 'I really do love my fellow man.'

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Former Sen. George Voinovich (R) of Ohio speaks during a 2009 news conference in Washington. Senator Voinovich, who died Sunday, was also a two-term Ohio governor.

Former US senator and Ohio governor George Voinovich is being remembered for his ability to unite conflicting sides, as well as his compassion, after the 79-year-old died overnight Sunday.

"He was a unifier who thought outside the box, never gave up and worked hard for the ideas he believed in up until the very end of his life," said Ohio Gov. John Kasich. "Thanks to that leadership, he saved Cleveland, governed Ohio compassionately and responsibly and was a candid voice for reason in the US Senate."

Former president George H.W. Bush said Mr. Voinovich was one of his closest political allies and a "quintessential public servant," who "brought people together, focused on results, and left his state and our country a better place."

Voinovich’s wife of 53 years, Janet, confirmed he died peacefully in his sleep, although the cause was not immediately known.

Voinovich, known to the Buckeye state as Mr. Ohio, was the state's most prolific vote-getter ever, reported the Columbus Post-Dispatch. The Republican devoted 43 years of uninterrupted service to public office, serving as US senator for 12 years, governor for eight, and as mayor of Cleveland for 10. Proud of his frugality, Voinovich will also be remembered as a politician who ignored party labels, and instead led with compassion and conviction.

"A Republican who flourished in one of Ohio’s most-Democratic cities, Voinovich was philosophically consistent throughout his career, a political pragmatist who sometimes seemed just as much a Democrat as a Republican," wrote the Post-Dispatch.

In the Senate, Voinovich was unafraid of defying party conventions, occasionally clashing with Republican conservatives in the process. During the Bush administration, he was the sole Republican to advocate raising taxes to pay for hurricane relief and for the Iraq war. When he chose not to seek a third senate term, he was proud of the passage of a global anti-Semitism bill and an effort to expand NATO.

The first Republican Catholic ever elected to governorship, Voinovich often let the "Holy Spirit," as he said, guide his politics, the Post-Dispatch reported. He frequently said his mission on Earth was to serve fellow men, and invested millions into programs and education for children.

One of the most trying disasters he faced was the riot of 400 inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Though a guard and nine inmates were killed, Voinovich avoided further bloodshed by encouraging negotiations.  

His 10 years as mayor was arguably the most successful of his political career, according to the Post-Dispatch. He oversaw a building boom in Cleveland, including the construction of stadiums for the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers, as well as the Rock and Roll of Fame, by forging partnerships between government and private business interests.

Voinovich was not afraid of his emotions either. When protesters gathered outside the governor’s office to demand that he restore cuts the Legislature made to welfare, he broke into tears inside his office. "I really do love my fellow man," he said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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