The Mackinac Center Board of Directors, staff, and friends are saddened by the recent passing of D. Joseph Olson, a trusted adviser and stalwart supporter. Many recognize him as a co-founder of the Mackinac Center. Others may know him as the first and longest-serving chairman of our Board of Directors. Joe’s life’s work left an indelible mark on the organization and on free-market public policy in Michigan.
Joe co-founded the Mackinac Center in 1987 with Richard McLellan at the suggestion of John Engler, who later became governor. He was instrumental in hiring the Mackinac Center’s first president, Larry Reed, as well as promoting me to succeed Larry when he left. He was general counsel for Citizens Insurance Co. and Amerisure and was inducted into the Michigan Insurance Hall of Fame in August 2011. He took a leave of absence from the Mackinac Center board to serve as the Michigan Commissioner of Insurance during the Engler Administration.
Joe bore witness to the Mackinac Center’s biggest moments. He was immensely proud of the Mackinac Center’s role in making Michigan a right-to-work state. He guided the organization and its leaders through the tragic loss of Joe Overton, the Mackinac Center’s former senior vice president, who died at a young age in 2003.
Joe had a vision for universal school choice that we hope to realize soon. He also never received a dime in compensation for the countless hours he gave. He supported the mission of Hillsdale College and established the Teresa Leigh Olson Scholarship Endowment at the Mackinac Center in 2013 to honor his late wife’s legacy. The endowment provides scholarships for Hillsdale College students to participate in summer internships at the Mackinac Center. When he remarried, he and his wife Tammy continued to passionately support the Olson Scholarship recipients.
Most importantly, Joe never allowed politics, controversy, opposition, or other circumstances to divert us from our philosophical North Star. He did this in good humor. Joe always said he wanted the Mackinac Center and its mission to outlive him. We just wish it hadn’t happened so soon.
For those who want to make a memorial gift, the Olson family recommends the Mackinac Center or Hillsdale College. If you would like to make
a gift to the Mackinac Center, please send your contribution to: Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 140 West Main, Midland, MI 48640. Please make checks payable to the Mackinac Center and note “Olson Memorial” in the memo.