George Clarence Milligan remembered for kind, generous nature

| December 18, 2017

Pictured is the Conesville Class of 1943. George Clarence Milligan is located in the second row from the bottom, far left.

COSHOCTON – The Conesville Class of 1943 lost someone very near and dear to their hearts on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. George Clarence Milligan, known to his family and friends as Clarence, passed away in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, CA at the age of 91.

Milligan’s unyielding love for his Conesville classmates was made evident by his annual return to Coshocton County for the Conesville class reunions. Although flying from California to Ohio would be preferable to most, Milligan preferred to drive, even in his advanced age, taking the time no doubt to see all the sites of a cross-country journey.

“He drove across country annually for years,” said Jan Myers, Milligan’s great-niece. “He never flew. I think that spoke to how much he cared for his family and friends across the country.”

One classmate he kept in contact with was Betty (Wilson) Miller. The two used to write letters back and forth to each other penned by Milligan’s daughter, Nancy, and Irene Miller, Betty’s daughter-in-law.

“One thing she always said, he always told the class that when he thought about the future, he said our country will go to the moon,” said Irene, recalling Betty’s memories. “He was so intelligent. Everybody liked to sit by Clarence so they could copy off of him. He and Betty became pen pals over the last 20 years.”

In some of those letters were included fictional stories that Milligan would write for Betty’s reading enjoyment.

“That man had an imagination,” said Irene. “He would start out the stories from memories he had of Conesville High School and then embellish them to create a story.”

Another classmate he kept in close contact with was Wilber Donely.

“He always seemed to be happy and joyful,” said Donley. “When we would talk on the phone, we used to laugh a lot. When he’d call, maybe he’d be a little bit down and I’d make a joke and bring him right out of it. We used to be pretty good friends. We kept in touch right up until the end.”

He said that Milligan was also someone who would bend over backward for a friend in need.

“He was willing to do pretty much anything for anybody,” said Donely. “I hope he’s remembered as a good friend who could always make us laugh. He was a good friend and I’m sad to see him go.”

Milligan was born in Solon, Ohio in 1926 and moved to Coshocton County in 1932 where his great-great-grandfather Cuthbert Milligan settled in 1819. The family moved to a 16-acre farm with a small house, and no electricity or indoor plumbing. The farm was located five miles south of Coshocton near Franklin Grange and Cemetery.

Although he grew to love Conesville High School, his first encounter was one that he says was very traumatic, as seen in this excerpt from Milligan’s “Family Memories” memoir, page 54, provided by his nephew, Tom.

“After we moved to the farm, I attended Robinson School, a one-room school for grades one through eight. … In the mid-thirties, Coshocton County changed the school system by closing one-room schools, using buses to take students to consolidated schools and bringing all high schools to a four-year course. Some Robinson School students were sent to Conesville School a year or two early. When I was entering the seventh grade, the remainder of Robinson students were moved to Conesville. For me, it was the most traumatic event of my life, from a two-person sixth grade class, I found myself in a class of about 40 students in seventh grade. I felt very much alone.”

After spending two years in the Navy, he attended The Ohio State University and completed his degree in electrical engineering. He worked for General Electric at several locations before returning to The Ohio State University to complete graduate studies.

It was at this time that Clarence’s dream in high school about going into space came to fruition. Although he never went to the moon like he wanted to in high school, Clarence took a position at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA in 1956. While there, Clarence worked on the space program’s cutting-edge Ranger missions, which later helped NASA put a space craft in low earth orbit and eventually into lunar orbits. From the Ranger projects, Clarence moved to the Mariner projects and early deep space exploration including the first successful flyby missions to another planet, Venus. Later, Mariner projects visited Mars, which was in Clarence’s future once again as he also participated in the JPL Viking program which landed the first ever craft on Mars and sent back the first images from the surface in 1976. After helping to explore the inner planets, Clarence joined the team that sent the Voyager crafts by the outer planets to tour the solar system. His time at JPL lasted 37 years.

“I think he was more proud of the Viking lander in 1976,” said John Milligan, Clarence’s son. “Imagine landing a large probe about the size of a VW Microbus on another planet on the first try right side up with about the same amount of computer power as a modern car’s electronic key. This was done before cell phones, before the PC or the MAC. I think it is very difficult for people today to understand what a huge accomplishment that was because they have so much technology all around them and tend to take it for granted.”

However, Clarence never bragged about his accomplishments at NASA.

“He never talked about any of that stuff,” said Myers. “He never bragged about it. He just did it.”

Although Clarence will be remembered for his work at NASA, he will be remembered most for his dedication to the class of 1943 and his family.

“He was just one of those people,” said Myers. “He always remembered birthdays and he had lots of nieces and nephews birthdays to remember. He would always call or send a letter. He was just an amazingly thoughtful person. He kept in touch with people and developed relationships with my kids. He was just a kind and gentle person who loved his family and friends.”

Clarence married his wife Harriet on Thanksgiving Day, 1960, who preceded him in death. They had two children, who survive, John and Nancy.

“He was kind and gentle,” said Tom, Clarence’s nephew. “He appreciated that each person had different ideas. … He was a human encyclopedia of knowledge on many topics. He was always laughing and joking. His mind stayed sharp, even at 91.”

“I hope he will be remembered for showing that you can come from humble beginnings, a farm boy in a small town America during the Great Depression and go on to push the edge of science and technology right out of the solar system,” said his son, John. “I also hope he is remembered for his sense of humor, his kindness, his generosity, and for being a model parent. I hope that he is an inspiration to kids that don’t go to large well-resourced big city high schools or fancy prep schools, that they can work their way through and make a better place through science and technology and other intellectual pursuits.”

Clarence’s ashes will be buried in Coshocton at Prairie Chapel in the family plot. A memorial service will take place at a later date.

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Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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