2014-11-20 / Columns

Cawthorne’s Insightful Book on Mackinac Island

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks


Mackinac Island summer resident Dennis Cawthorne has written a book called “Mackinac Island: Inside, Up Close, and Personal.” The book is a collection of 47 chapters that cover topics like city and state politics, notable community members, and controversies. Mackinac Island summer resident Dennis Cawthorne has written a book called “Mackinac Island: Inside, Up Close, and Personal.” The book is a collection of 47 chapters that cover topics like city and state politics, notable community members, and controversies. In Michigan, Mackinac Island is second to none in being steeped in history, tourism, and zesty politics, and as a gathering place for national and state political leaders.

Who better to chronicle all of this, after living and working on Mackinac Island for a half century, than longtime businessman-saloon keeper Dennis O. Cawthorne, former state House Republican top leader and chairman and member of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission for more than 20 years.

During a 1994 controversy on island landowner leases, I quoted Lansing-savvy Cawthorne in The Detroit News as observing that politics on Mackinac “are at least equal to anything found under the Capitol dome.”

Much of this is captured in Cawthorne’s new book from Traverse City-based Arbutus Press: “Mackinac Island: Inside, Up Close, and Personal.”

Ex-Governor William G. Milliken said: “For decades, Dennis Cawthorne has enjoyed an unparalleled perspective on Mackinac Island and the people who make it up. In this colorful, insightful account of Mackinac Island life and times, Cawthorne shares rich, historical context, along with his half-century of first-and experiences and observations.”

Bill Ballenger, founder and publisher emeritus of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said: “Few people know Michigan political history and Mackinac Island life like Dennis Cawthorne. His book is a highly entertaining blend of both, and a lot more.”

Those who follow politics will find special interest in Cawthorne’s accounts, including memorable photos of the many island visits of presidents, ex-presidents, and would-be presidents.

Most notable on the national scene is Cawthorne’s account of islanders “basking in the afterglow of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Mackinac,” where in 1960 he got the crucial endorsement of Governor G. Mennen Williams for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mackinac Island, as is Detroit, Grand Rapids, and other downstate venues, is a focal point for statewide political gatherings.

But the great strength of the book is what Director Phil Porter of Mackinac State Historic Parks describes as “a wide range of topics through the lives of unforgettable characters” of the island.

Among the legions of such characters are those in what the book calls Grand Hotel’s Woodfill era and the Musser era. To many, Grand Hotel is Mackinac Island.

Cited in the book as “Three to Remember”: ex-legislator Bill Doyle, a power in many areas; Mackinac Island Carriage Tours boss Jack Chambers, and Harry Ryba, “the Fudge King of Mackinac Island.”

Of special note are the ladies Doud. Margaret Doud became mayor in 1975, the first female to hold the office, and by 2014, Michigan’s longest continuously serving mayor. Her mother, Jeannette Doud, is fondly known as “The Voice of Mackinac Island” for her decades of columns in the local Mackinac Island Town Crier and The St. Ignace News.

At the outset of his book, Cawthorne called it “a nostalgic and candid behind-the-scenes look at more than a century of Mackinac people and events. It’s part memoir, part history, and part chronicle.”

I’ve read many a book by Michigan political figures about state and local-focused politics, but none better than Dennis Cawthorne’s.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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