Community remembers councilman, ‘great guy’

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 12, 2021

 In 2017, George McMullen, right, participated in the “An Evening Under the Stars” fundraiser to benefit the Full Circle Foundation. The event was held at the Roostertail in Detroit.

In 2017, George McMullen, right, participated in the “An Evening Under the Stars” fundraiser to benefit the Full Circle Foundation. The event was held at the Roostertail in Detroit.

Photo provided by Judy Gafa

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — There’s a feeling of sadness in the community with the passing of Grosse Pointe Woods City Councilman George McMullen Jr.

On Dec. 29, the elected official who made friends everywhere he went lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 63.

A moment of silence was held in his honor at the Jan. 4 Grosse Pointe Woods City Council meeting held via Zoom video conference.

“He will be remembered,” Mayor Robert Novitke said.

McMullen, well known in the community, was first elected to the council in November 2017 after being very active in different civic groups over the years. He often attended city council meetings in all five Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods, and he was a fixture at Grosse Pointe Public School System and Harper Woods School District board of education meetings. He was pretty much everywhere.

In early March, McMullen stepped down from City Council after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so he could focus on his medical treatment. He posted updates on his personal Facebook page to let people know how he was doing health-wise and to thank them for their prayers and well wishes as he underwent treatment. In June, the council voted 6-0 via Zoom to appoint McMullen back to the council because, at the time, his health was improving, but his health began to decline and he succumbed to the disease.

According to an obituary posted on the A.H. Peters Funeral Home website at www.ahpeters.com, McMullen is survived by his mother, Judy McMullen; sister, Alex McCann; and brother-in-law, Franklin McCann. Because of COVID-19, there will be no service right now, and a celebration of the councilman’s life will be arranged when it is safe to gather.

The Grosse Pointe Rotary Club, the Grosse Pointe Library Foundation, the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe, the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society are just some of the organizations in which McMullen participated.

“George was an active Library Foundation board member, donor and volunteer. He was a truly engaged citizen, frequently attending library board meetings and community input sessions,” Grosse Pointe Public Library Director Jessica Keyser said in a statement. “He played a critical role in the 2019 millage renewal campaign, providing invaluable insights, enthusiasm and sweat equity. On a personal level, he was the first Grosse Pointe citizen to shake my hand and congratulate me after the meeting during which the board voted to offer me the library director position. He embodied all of the best parts of our community, and we all miss him very much at the library.”

Various tributes were posted on social media to remember the “beautiful soul,” “great guy” and “giant of a human.” On Jan. 1, the American flag at the Robert E. Novitke Municipal Center flew at half-staff in tribute.

“What a nice guy he was. He just wanted to do what he could for our city and for the whole Grosse Pointe community,” Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Pro Tem Arthur Bryant said. “He was just a very involved guy and was very civic minded. We have lost somebody who cared so much for the community and had good ideas for the groups he worked with.”

McMullen was a 1975 graduate of Grosse Pointe South High School and, in 1979, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Regis University in Denver. A “Caddyshack” fan, he often quoted lines from the 1980 movie, and it was customary for McMullen to call friends and colleagues on their birthdays.

“George will be missed by many people in the Grosse Pointe area. He was well known in every city, the school board and other organizations. George was very proud when he was appointed to the City Council and then when he won his seat at the election. He took his position very seriously and spent untold hours on issues concerning the city,” Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Bruce Smith said in an email. “I believe that because he was so well known, many residents felt comfortable contacting him with questions or problems. George will be missed in Grosse Pointe Woods. He was a friend to all and a guardian for the city.”


‘He’ll never be replaced’
Harper Woods City Council member Veronica Paiz left the following message honoring McMullen on the Grosse Pointe Times Facebook page: “George R. McMullen Jr. was a generous man and could be found at most local fundraisers or offering his time for a cause. He also frequented Harper Woods City Council meetings and attended a number of HW School Board meetings,” Paiz wrote. “George believed in good neighbors and good community and worked to make it real. George was a stand-up guy and will be greatly missed.”

Harper Woods Mayor Valerie Kindle first met McMullen in 2010 when he attended a council meeting and “prayed for him every day” during his illness.

“He’ll never be replaced. I can’t say enough good things about George. He was always informed. He was always the voice for the community,” Kindle said. “He always looked at the positive side of people, whatever the encounter was. There could never be another George, or Geo as he liked to call himself.”

Kindle said McMullen was “a staunch supporter” of the Harper Woods - Grosse Pointe Woods Lions Club. Kindle and McMullen had different political views, but that did not stop them from being friends.

“We both respected each other. If it was something we vehemently disagreed on, we said, ‘OK. I agree to disagree,’ and we’d go on to the next things,” Kindle said.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Judy Gafa, who served three terms on the GPPSS Board of Education, met McMullen when attending her first board meeting in 2009 as a board member. He sat in the front row that evening, and the two struck up a conversation at the end of the meeting. Discussing issues after board meetings became a constant for the pair, as did running into each other at various community functions.

“He wanted to understand what was going on. He was one of those people who wanted to make a difference. We slowly became really good friends. Once you met him, you were his buddy,” Gafa said. “He cared about everyone. He was always gracious and kind. He always believed in the best of people. He had a great sense of humor.”

According to Gafa, his Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings were always booked to take his mom to breakfast and dinner, respectively. Gafa visited with McMullen two to three times a week as he fought cancer. She spent time with him the day before he died.
“We would laugh and joke and tell stories,” Gafa said. “He was such a nice person. It was kind of an honor George let me visit him as much as I did.”

On Dec. 29, a Facebook campaign titled #lightitupforGeorge circulated, encouraging all who knew him to post photos of their Christmas trees because he loved holiday decorations.

“He had some bushes out in front of his house,” Gafa said, adding he would display lights for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas. “He was super proud of his light displays.”

Several Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce members also are remembering McMullen through various statements.

“George was not only a member of the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce, but also volunteered his time to serve on the board and as an ambassador,” President Jenny Boettcher and Director of Administration Regan Stolarski said in a joint statement. “He willingly agreed to help out with any task at hand and attend all meetings as long as there was food included, preferably candy. The success to many of our events and fundraising efforts is owed to George and his generous soul and his larger than life character.”   

According to Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP Branch Executive Director Cynthia Douglas, also on the GPCC Board of Directors, McMullen contacted her about the NAACP branch so he could become a member.

“In the short time that I had to get to know him, I understood and respected his commitment to this community. That is one of the things we had in common,” Douglas said. “He will be missed.”

GPCC Director-at-Large Robert Lubera said four qualities made McMullen a special person: integrity, independence, humor and generosity.

“God bless George,” said Tomasine Marx, former chair of the GPCC. “He was a remarkable gentleman and GP advocate to his core.”