G. Mennen Williams was born into a wealthy Detroit family on February 23, 1911. His maternal grandfather was the founder of the Mennen line of shaving lotions and, as a result, Williams was forever known as “Soapy.”
He attended Salisbury School in Connecticut and went to Princeton for his undergraduate work. In 1933, upon his Princeton graduation, he entered the University of Michigan Law School where he broke from family tradition and gave allegiance to the Democratic Party. During law school, he met Nancy Lace Quirk and was married on June 26, 1937.
Williams was a member of the law firm Griffiths, Williams and Griffiths from 1936 until 1941. When World War II broke out, Williams enlisted in the United States Navy. He served in the Pacific Theater and earned ten battle stars. He returned to Michigan as a Lieutenant Commander in 1946.
Williams worked in Detroit as the deputy director of the Office of Price Administration (OPA) and in 1947, Governor Kim Sigler appointed him to the Liquor Control Commission. In 1948, he decided to enter the race for governor but had to get by without the family fortune since his mother would not contribute funds to a Democratic campaign. When he won the gubernatorial election, Williams’ brother Dick gave him a green and white polka-dot tie for an inaugural gift and it became Soapy’s trademark from then on. He held the office of governor for 12 years. When he decided not to run for governor again in 1960, he was appointed assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, a position he held for five years.
From 1968 until 1969, Williams served as United States Ambassador to the Philippines and returned to the U.S. in 1970. He was then elected to the Michigan Supreme Court and served until 1987.
Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript) May 30, 1990
Burns, Paul C.
Oil on canvas
41 1/2″ X 31 1/2″
Owned by: State of Michigan
Hall of Justice – 6th Floor:
Justice Elizabeth Clement’s Suite
Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996