During my time in the Michigan Senate, I had the privilege to work with Gary Olson, one of the great talents of Michigan government. Gary was the Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency during my four years as Senate Majority Leader—four years of fiscal and economic turmoil in Michigan—so we spent many hours together. Gary taught me the state budget, and I relied on his experience, insight, and ideas. I also got to know him as a person.
Gary had a great mind, a great heart, a steady demeanor, an even keel, a commitment to excellence, and a teacher’s desire to see his students succeed, me being one. His belief in public service, and his ability—despite working for many years in an environment that doesn’t always bring out the best traits in people—to embrace the possibilities of legislators and the legislative process was inspiring.
Legislative staff who worked with Gary often noted his kindness. It didn’t matter if you were intern, staff, legislator, or governor—he treated everyone with respect, dignity, and professionalism. That says a lot in an environment in which position and title are too highly valued.
Since Gary’s passing a few days ago, many individuals have noted the credibility he—and, by extension, the entire Senate Fiscal Agency—had achieved over time. His research, conclusions, and judgments were rarely questioned. This credibility flowed from who he was as a person, by staying true to the facts and not letting shifting political winds compromise honesty or personal integrity.
I am saddened by Gary’s passing. Somehow the world seems to be smaller, more constricted, lessened. But that can change and possibilities expand again by reflecting on the gift Gary has left us—the gold standard of honesty, integrity, and credibility that we should all aspire to achieve.
By Ken Sikkema