Richard H. Headlee
It is with a mixture of profound sadness and fond memories
that we mark the passing of Richard H. Headlee, a giant of Michigan political
history. Every state citizen who believes in limited, responsible and
accountable government mourns the loss of a genuine hero. He passed away early
Dick Headlee was a man of character — honest, dependable
and committed to the highest standards of speech and conduct. Integrity was the
quiet subtext of everything he did.
Dick treated his friends like family. He looked for the
best in everyone, and when he found it, he was generous in his praise.
Some men achieve virtue by retiring from the affairs of the
world. Not Dick. He was devoted to God, family and country, and he spoke as a
straight-shooter, never beating around the bush to curry favor or obscure his
views. In his public life, he remained a man of principle, and his views were
clear-headed and consistent.
Dick believed passionately in a free society. He knew that
preserving freedom required not just eternal vigilance, but bold and determined
action. He didn’t run for governor because he wanted to be "in charge" or
because he craved the limelight. He was a living example of the ancient
republican ideal: the citizen who sets down his plow to put right what is wrong
and serve his community. Action in time of crisis was a natural extension of who
Dick was, and Michigan is demonstrably better for it.
He lost a close race for governor in 1982, but in other
ways, he governed much of Michigan politics for decades. His tireless work on
behalf of beleaguered taxpayers, enshrined in 1978 in our state constitution’s
"Headlee Amendment," gave Michiganians a powerful shield in the battle to
restrain government excess.
His firmness stiffened the spines of later leaders. His
forceful yet congenial persuasiveness, often wrapped in clever verse or
rhetorical flourish, won the hearts and minds of countless citizens.
Dick Headlee was a good friend and advisor to the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy. We are grateful for his contributions to our
organization and to our state.
But we will miss the many interactions we had with him over
the years, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Mary, and the
entire Headlee family.
(These biographical notes are edited excerpts of information supplied to the
Mackinac Center by the Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance Company in 1993.)
Richard H. Headlee was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on May 16,
1930. He finished high school in Richfield, Utah, and graduated from Utah State
University in 1953.
He served as an officer in the United States Army from 1953
to 1956 and then joined the marketing division of Burroughs Corporation. He
became vice president of governmental affairs for the U.S. Jaycees and in 1963
was elected president of the U.S. Jaycees.
In 1964, Headlee moved to Michigan, and in 1965 he was
called upon by Gov. George Romney to organize a Christmas gift drive for 8,100
Michigan servicemen in Vietnam. In 1966, he became an advisor to Gov. Romney,
and in 1967 and 1968, he worked with the Romney for President Committee.
Dick Headlee became president of Morbark Industries in 1968
and a member of the Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance Company Board of Directors
the same year. He was elected president and chief executive officer of Alexander
Hamilton Life in 1972.
In 1978, Dick served as chairman of Taxpayers United for
Tax Limitation, an organization that led a successful drive to amend the
Michigan Constitution. The "Headlee Amendment," among many provisions intended
to limit government and protect taxpayers, banned unfunded state mandates on
local units of government and placed a limit on all forms of taxation and
government spending. In 1982, he was the Republican nominee for governor of the
state of Michigan.
In October 1987, Dick Headlee received a heart transplant
at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. He was chairman of Oakland University and the
Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, and he served as a bishop, as part of a
stake presidency, and as a regional representative of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints in Michigan.
In the late 1990s, Dick moved to Utah to enjoy a
well-deserved retirement closer to his many sons, daughters and grandchildren.
He continued his dedication to the principles of liberty and limited government
by serving on the board of the Sutherland Institute, a policy group that studies education, poverty and family issues.
Related Mackinac Center Publications
"The Headlee Amendment: Serving Michigan for 25 years," by Lawrence W. Reed, Aug. 4, 2003 (www.mackinac.org/5574).
"Time for Another State Tax Cut: It's the Law," by Lawrence W. Reed and Patrick L. Anderson, Oct. 18, 1999 (www.mackinac.org/2490).
"Note to Michigan Municipalities: A Tax Is Not a User Fee," by Lawrence W. Reed, April 5, 1999 (www.mackinac.org/1657).
"The Headlee Amendment: Alive and Well," by Dr. Gary L. Wolfram, Oct. 3, 1994 (www.mackinac.org/10).
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for
Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland,
Mich. He served on the State of Michigan’s Headlee Amendment Blue Ribbon
Commission, whose report in 1994 documented the success of the Headlee
Amendment’s first 15 years. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby
granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.