On Sunday, June 12, George V. Voinovich, Ohio ’56, former U.S. senator, Cleveland mayor and two-term Ohio governor entered Chapter Eternal. Voinovich was a member of the Phi Kappa Tau Hall of Fame. He is survived by his constant companion, Janet, his wife of 53 years. He was 79 years old.
With a distinguished record of public service spanning nearly a half-century, the passing of Voinovich is a loss to Phi Kappa Tau, the State of Ohio and the United States. From his time as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Cuyahoga County Commissioner, Cuyahoga County auditor, lieutenant governor of Ohio, mayor of Cleveland and governor of Ohio to his twelve years as Ohio’s senior U.S. Senator, Voinovich strived for more than 40 years to make all levels of government “work harder and smarter and do more with less.”
Voinovich was inducted into the Phi Kappa Tau Hall of Fame in 2006 during the Centennial Celebration. He was a lifelong supporter of Phi Kappa Tau, participating in many local, regional and national events, and served as a mentor and friend to countless Phi Tau brothers. Voinovich was a loyal donor to the Foundation by making a gift each year, without fail, since 1985. In 1986, he was bestowed the Fraternity’s Taylor A. Borradaile Alumnus Award for his outstanding achievements as a public servant.
Voinovich was one of only three Phi Tau brothers to serve as a U.S. senator, along with Sen. Mitch McConnell, Louisville ’61, and Sen. John Barrasso, Rensselaer ’71.
“Sen. Voinovich was a man of integrity and deep commitment to his faith, his family, and those he served in public office,” said McConnell. “From the mayor’s office to the governor’s mansion to the United States Senate, George had a singular political career but never forgot who sent him there.”
Voinovich and McConnell served together in the U.S. Senate from 1999 to 2011. With the election of Barrasso in 2007, the three Phi Tau brothers served alongside each other for four years until Voinovich retired in 2011. The three senators were profiled in the Fall 2009 issue of Phi Kappa Tau’s magazine, The Laurel. During the interview with Voinovich, he spoke highly of his Phi Kappa Tau experience and how it helped him throughout his many roles in public office.
“I have often thought that I would not be where I am today without my Phi Kappa Tau experience. I developed leadership and interpersonal skills that have benefited me throughout my life,” said Voinovich. “Most importantly, I learned what it means to be a member of a team, and teamwork became a mainstay of my political career. For that, I am eternally grateful.”
National Vice President Mike Dovilla, Baldwin Wallace ’94, worked as a U.S. Senate committee staffer for Voinovich from 2001 to 2003 and kept in regular contact with the senator. Dovilla currently serves as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives representing the Seventh District.
“During Phi Kappa Tau’s 110-year history and of our more than 95,000 initiated members, George Voinovich was among our most accomplished brothers. We were tremendously proud of him and deeply mourn this loss to our brotherhood,” said Dovilla. “Ohio has lost a statesman, but I have lost my public service mentor and friend. Much like the debt I cannot repay to Phi Kappa Tau for all it has given me, I owe so much of my professional career to George Voinovich. I miss him already.”
The two were together last week when the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County opened its new headquarters in anticipation of the Republican National Committee’s quadrennial convention coming to Cleveland next month. The local party, where Voinovich himself got his start in elective office as a state representative in 1966, named its main meeting space the George and Janet Voinovich Conference Room.
Throughout his life, even during his tenures as mayor, governor and U.S. Senator, Voinovich remained loyal to his alma mater and chapter.
Voinovich was a regular visitor at the Beta chapter house in Athens, Ohio, where he would visit with the undergraduate members. In 2011, the Beta chapter at Ohio University celebrated its 100th anniversary and Voinovich served as the honorary chairman of the Beta Chapter Centennial Cabinet.
“Sen. Voinovich truly cared about Phi Kappa Tau and the Beta Chapter,” said former National Councilor Rick Harrison, Ohio ’79. “He never said no to stopping by the chapter house to talk to the brothers, despite his busy schedule. He wouldn’t just fly through; he would sit and spend time talking about his life’s path and the respect he had for public service.”
Voinovich was vocal about the important role Phi Kappa Tau played during his time at Ohio University and throughout his life, especially during his first campaign where he ran for student council president.
“I will never forget how the Fraternity helped my big brother, Roger Pendell, get elected as student council president and the following year getting me elected president of the student council,” wrote Voinovich in an open letter that was read during Beta’s Centennial Celebration. “It was the first time a Fraternity had the presidency two years in a row. Of course, so many of my Phi Tau brothers helped elect me to the seven different offices that I have held during my 44 years in government.”
The George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs was established in 2007 at Ohio University. The school is a multidisciplinary school which focuses on applied research and leadership development. Ohio University is the permanent home of the George V. Voinovich Collection comprised of three sets of archival collections created by three of the offices held by Voinovich: mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio, and U.S. senator.
In the closing of his open letter to the brothers who attended Beta’s Centennial, Voinovich provided his views on Phi Kappa Tau and fraternities in general.
“I feel the college fraternity is the most valuable group through which a student can learn to get along with people. Within the fraternity, an individual will find an example of almost every type of personality, and because of the bonds of brotherhood, he must learn to live with everyone in the group.”
Voinovich’s dedication to public service and ethical leadership is a shining example for all Phi Tau brothers to follow. With his passing, the State of Ohio and the United States has lost a true statesman and Phi Kappa Tau has lost a treasured brother.