Former Wisconsin governor Lucey dies at 96

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 11, 2014 at 5:52 pm •  Published: May 11, 2014
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Former Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey, a hard-nosed Democratic politician who later became the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has died. He was 96.

Lucey, who also ran for vice president of the United States as an independent in 1980, died Saturday night at the Milwaukee Catholic Home after a brief Illness, said his son, Paul Lucey, of Milwaukee. He said funeral arrangements are pending.

"Governor Lucey was a dedicated public servant who loved Wisconsin," Republican Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. He called it "a particular joy" to be with him last summer for the 40th anniversary of the Kikkoman Foods Inc. soy sauce plant in Fontana.

Patrick Lucey was elected governor in 1970 and won re-election in 1974, but left midway through his second term to serve as then-President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Mexico.

In Wisconsin, he will perhaps be remembered most for pushing to merge the University of Wisconsin in Madison with the state college system, a fierce battle that created today's system of 13 four-year state colleges.

Lucey was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1918. He worked as a grocery store manager from 1937 until 1940 and served in World War II in the Caribbean. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1948 and became executive director and later chairman of the state Democratic Party. He served as lieutenant governor in 1966.

Lucey's biggest legacy was creating the modern UW System. Before he was governor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay, UW-Parkside, 10 freshman-sophomore centers and the extension system operated outside the chain of nine other state schools such as Platteville and Eau Claire. Each group had its own board of regents.