After a short battle with cancer, Birkholz died at the age of 74 on Thursday, according to a Facebook page managed by her family.
Birkholz was first elected to the Michigan Legislature in 1996 as the first woman state representative from Allegan County.
She served in the Michigan House from 1997-02 and was elected the first female Republican speaker pro tem. She was subsequently elected to the Michigan Senate in 2002 and served two terms from 2003-08.
In addition to her legislative offices, Birkholz served as a Saugatuck Township Parks and Commission member, Saugatuck Township trustee and Allegan County treasurer. She also served as president of the Saugatuck Dunes Friends of the State Park, on the Michigan State Parks Citizens Advisory Committee and the Oxbow Board of Directors.
Upon leaving the Legislature, Birkholz was appointed director of the Office of the Great Lakes by Gov. Rick Snyder and as the Michigan representative to the Great Lakes Commission.
President Barack Obama appointed Birkholz to the National Sea Grant Advisory Board, a position she continued to hold until her death.
“I am saddened to hear of Birkholz’s passing,” Snyder said in a press release. “Patty was a tireless and highly regarded advocate for Michigan and our lakes. Under her leadership, we saw the formation of the Great Lakes Inter-Basin Compact and the passage of significant legislation regarding water withdrawal assessment, the Michigan state parks passport, ballast water standards, and renewable energy mandates. We all should remember Patty for her dedication to protecting Michigan’s environment and residents, which will benefit Michiganders for generations.”
In 2010, a 291-acre portion of the 1,000-acre Saugatuck Dunes State Park was renamed the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
In an event in 2011 at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Birkholz was honored for work protecting the environment.
In a Facebook post from the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, the group said it is “grateful for her (Birkholz’s) inspiration and mentorship.”
In a Facebook post, state Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, said Birkholz had so much love and passion for the natural resources of Allegan County and her legacy will last for generations.
Birkholz is survived by three sons: Brent (Meridith) Birkholz of Saugatuck, Eric (Dr. Laurie) Birkholz of Saugatuck and Jason Birkholz of Hawaii; her granddaughters, Hayden and Anna; her sister, Joan; and husband, Frank Lamb of Saugatuck.
The family will hold a private family service. An announcement regarding a Celebration of Life service will be made at a future date, according to the Facebook page created by Birkholz’s family.
The family asks that contributions in remembrance of Birkholz be made to the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, P.O. Box 1013, Saugatuck, MI 49453, or saugatuckdunescoastalalliance.com; the Ox-Bow Artists-in-Residence; or the Outdoor Discovery Center, 4214 56th St., Holland, MI 49423.