150 Newsmakers: 61: George Romney, former Governor


Our staff amassed a list of the 150 Michiganians who most affected the news, history and our lives − for better or worse − in the 150 years of The Detroit News, ranked from 150 to 1 (Read the FAQ on our selection process here). Here are our picks, one a day through our birthday on Aug. 23.

61: George Romney, former Governor (1907-1995)

George Romney, July 27, 1970.

George Romney was born in Mexico, the son of Mormon missionaries. Romney moved to Detroit in 1939 for a career in the auto industry, and a year later helped found the Automotive Center for Air Defense to help prepare for the coming war. After Pearl Harbor, Romney was instrumental in converting automobile production capacity to making military equipment. He rose to chairman of American Motors Corp., stepping down to run successfully in 1962 for Michigan governor. In 1968, Romney mounted a presidential bid that went off track when he said he had been brainwashed on the necessity of the Vietnam War. In 1969, Romney was named by President Nixon as HUD secretary. His son, Mitt Romney, was a Senator from Massachusetts and also ran unsuccessfully for president. He is now a senator from Utah. Granddaughter Ronna Romney currently heads the Republican National Committee.

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62: L. Brooks Patterson, lawyer & politician (1939-2019)

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson speaks on the issue of regional transit during the annual 'Big Four' event at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon at Cobo Center in Detroit.

L. Brooks Patterson was the second county executive Oakland County, and the individual given most of the credit for the county’s rise as an economic powerhouse. Patterson first came to prominence as a young lawyer defending anti-school busing activist Irene McCabe. He rode the publicity from that case to election as Oakland County prosecutors. He was elected county executive in 1992 and served until his death in 2019. He was a fierce advocate for his county and was often accused of putting Oakland’s interest ahead of those of the region. His idea to create an Automation Alley along I-75 brought thousands of industrial jobs to Oakland.

63: Al Taubman, shopping mall developer (1924-2015)

Al Taubman in his Bloomfield Hills office, January 24, 2006.

Michigan-born Al Taubman is considered the father of the modern shopping mall. Taubman amassed his fortune through a series of real estate investments, mainly surrounding indoor shopping malls that helped fuel the suburban migration. He also was the majority owner of the Michigan Panthers football team from 1983-84. Taubman was among Metro Detroit’s most prolific philanthropists, particularly in medical research. Taubman ran into trouble with his ownership of Sotheby’s, a British auction house. In 2002, Taubman and others were convicted of a price-fixing scheme between Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s. Taubman was fined $7.5 million dollars and served a 10 month prison sentence. He insisted he was innocent throughout the entire legal process, and for the rest of his life.

64: Roy Chapin, former Secretary of Commerce & co-founder of Hudson Motor Company (1880-1936)

Roy D. Chapin

Roy Chapin was a Lansing-native who brought national interest and industry to Michigan. In 1908, Chapin led a group of investors and engineers in founding the Hudson Motor Company in Detroit. He helped run the company and formed its subset, Essex Motor Company, which specialized in the mass production of affordable automobiles. Hudson became one of the most profitable auto-manufacturers of the time. In 1932, Chapin was appointed the United States Secretary of Commerce under President Hoover. After his political career ended, Chapin moved back to Detroit and fought for the rest of his life to protect Hudson from the effects of the Great Depression.

65: Dick and Betsy DeVos, businessman & former Secretary of Education (1955-present)

Betsy DeVos, with husband Dick, is sworn in as education secretary in 2017.

When it comes to power couples, it’s hard to beat Dick and Betsy DeVos. The Grand Rapids pair are influential in both business and politics. Dick Devos is the son of the late Amway-founder Richard Devos Sr., and helped lead the direct marketing company to an international presence. He ran unsuccessfully for Michigan governor as a Republican in 2006. Betsy DeVos is an advocate for education reform. The former chair of the Michigan Republican Party was named by President Donald Trump as the 11th Secretary of Education, and used the position to advocate for school choice and more accountability in education. The pair are major philanthropists, both in Michigan and worldwide. They have also been big donors to the Republican Party. Together they founded the Windquest Group, a privately-owned organization that invests in clean energy.

66: CW Post, breakfast cereal titan (1854-1914)

C.W. Post

After a stay in the Battle Creek Sanitarium for a mental breakdown, CW Post allegedly stole several cereal recipes from the Santiarium’s operator, John Harvey Kellogg, and used them in 1895 to start the Postum Cereal Co. in Battle Creek. As his food production business grew, Post became one of the richest men of the early 20th century. Postum Cereal Co. ran into trouble in 1907, when Post was fined $50,000 in a libel case over an advertisement claiming that his Grape-Nuts could cure appendicitis. In 1914, Post suffered from appendicitis himself, which would ultimately lead to his death. The company he founded survives as Post Consumer Brands, maker of Bran Flakes, Chips Ahoy!, Pebbles, Honeycomb, and other major brands.

67: Carl Levin, former US Senator (1934-2021)

Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin addresses the crowd at the Michigan State Democratic Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit., Saturday, August 28, 2010.

Sen. Carl Levin was Michigan’s longest tenured U.S. senator, serving for 36 years. The Detroit native got his start working with the Michigan Civil Rights Council in the 1960s, and later won a seat on the Detroit City Council, eventually becoming its president. Frustrated by inaction on repossessed HUD homes, Levin rented bulldozers and led fellow council members in driving them through a blighted neighborhood. He spent seven years on the council from 1969 to 1977, during which he was a close ally of Mayor Coleman Young.Levin was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1978, and for 10 years chaired the Armed Forces Committee, and advocated for Pentagon transparency during the Iraq War. He also led a comprehensive congressional investigation into the causes of the financial collapse in 2008. Over the course of his Senate career he authored 51 bills that became law.

President Jimmy Carter stands between Michigan's former Sen. Don Riegle, left, and Sen. Carl Levin as he speaks at the airport during his unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1980.

68: Charles Wright, physician and museum founder (1918-2002)

Dr. Charles H. Wright, founder of the Museum of African American History.

Dr. Charles Wright was both a physician and civil-rights activist. After completing two residencies in Harlem and Cleveland, Wright moved to Detroit and practiced general medicine, later becoming a gynecologist, surgeon and senior physician at Hutzel Women’s Hospital. In the 1960s he joined the civil rights movement, joining marches in the south and providing medical care for fellow protesters. Throughout his career, Wright worked to bring more African Americans into the medical field, raising funds for scholarships. He also advocated for a museum to celebrate Black history, and was instrumental in the 1985 opening of the Detroit Museum of African American History, which in 1989 was renamed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in his honor.

69: Louis Chevrolet, race car driver & Chevrolet co-founder (1878-1941)

Louis Chevrolet is seen driving the Buick 60 Special at Indianapolis, circa 1910.
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