Thirty-five years of service

Huntington Woods mayor Ron Gillham reflects during final days at the helm

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published October 14, 2015


HUNTINGTON WOODS — For much of his 35-year tenure as Huntington Woods mayor, Ron Gillham rarely faced competition during his re-election bids. Instead of thinking people just weren’t interested, Gillham said he took it as a vote of faith from the residents.

During the Nov. 3 election, however, Huntington Woods voters will not see Gillham’s name on the ballot. After a lengthy career at General Motors Co. and as mayor, Gillham has decided it is time to retire at the age of 80.

“It has been a great run, shall we say, and I have enjoyed it,” Gillham said. “There were times when things have been tough, but that is when we would get going and come up with a solution. I had a 37-year career with GM as an engineer and 35-year career as mayor, so I’m looking forward to retirement.”

Gillham, a Huntington Woods resident since 1959, became part of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals before stepping up to be a city commissioner in 1977. When former Mayor Jack Olsen was elected as an Oakland County commissioner in 1980, Gillham said he was “convinced” to step into the empty mayoral seat.

“The commission had to appoint someone to take that position until the next election, and I didn’t think I’d be too keen to do it, but I did in January 1981,” he said. “I told them not to count on me running in the next election, but it was pretty easy because there was no opposition, so I did run and have been doing this ever since.”

Gillham said the area in and around Huntington Woods has changed a lot since he took over, as more and more areas have been developed.

In looking back at what he has been able to help the city achieve, Gillham said one of his fondest memories as mayor was helping to get a new Recreation Center built around 1990.

“Like so many things that happen in a small city like Huntington Woods, it was not one person that made it happen, but you need people who want it to happen and work to make it happen,” he said. “There was a huge amount of resident effort to bring this forward, and we were able to pass the bond issues to have the money to do it. And it has been a huge success, as the Rec Center is full all the time, and after we rebuilt the pool, it was taken over.

“The center provides jobs for young kids and a space for the community to gather.”

Another big achievement, Gillham said, was being part of the continued work on the city’s streets and infrastructure.

“We made a couple of attempts to rebuild some of our streets, and the first time there were problems, but we went back and got it passed and have recently passed two millages to continue that work,” he said. “We don’t have a huge staff, so we can’t do all the streets at once, so it is great that the residents support the work we have been doing.”

Former Huntington Woods City Manager Alex Allie worked alongside Gillham for 24 years, and Allie said he knew Gillham had few political aspirations when he became mayor, but Allie said Gillham always stepped up to do what was best for the city.

The fact that few residents ran against him in the elections was evidence that the residents felt he was what an elected official should be, Allie added.

“Ron is a watchdog for everything that is going on, and his approach to the job was always questioning and looking at alternatives,” Allie said. “I think residents had a great deal of trust in him and respect. He became an institution, and was very visible in the community and open and candid with people. That is what people came to expect, and there was no reason for anyone not to want him as mayor.”

During the more than three decades as mayor, Gillham said, his overriding goal was to always make Huntington Woods a great place to live. Now on his way out, he feels he was able to do that for the residents.

“This is a wonderful place to live, and when you are here, you can take as big a role and part in seeing the city stay great as you want,” he said. “Fortunately, I think most people take significant pleasure in keeping this place great, and I think we just have a nice community made up of nice people.”