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Robin Riggs, who served as the state's first governor's general counsel under Gov. Mike Leavitt and later crafted the Utah Compact, the state's landmark immigration document, died Tuesday at the age of 62.
Riggs, who was a fixture on Utah's Capitol Hill for more than three decades, was recovering from back surgery last week when he suffered some sort of heart failure, according to his stepson, Parry Harrison.
"Not only was Robin Riggs one of the most experienced and knowledge people in Utah history on legislative composition and process, he was universally liked and trusted," Leavitt wrote in an email. "When the people of Utah amended the Constitution to allow governors to appoint a General Council, it was my privilege to appoint Robin Riggs as the first. He was my counselor, advisor and friend. I will deeply miss him."
"He was an incredible friend whose keen intellect was only surpassed by his tremendous capacity to love and inspire those around him," said Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber.
Riggs was vice president and general counsel at the Chamber when he worked to bring together political leaders and officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faiths to craft the Utah Compact, a statement of principles on the immigration issue that served as a basis for Utah's immigration law.
"That comes really rapidly to my mind as an example of how deep he could think and come up with such a wonderful compromise on such an explosive topic," said Michael Sibbett, the former chairman of the board of pardons under Leavitt and Riggs' friend and business partner. "It was something that he was passionate about and worked about and you know it was very successful to get that done."
Riggs was a graduate of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University law school. He worked in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel for 12 years until Leavitt chose him to be the first general counsel to the governor in 1992 because Leavitt wanted his own counsel, rather than being represented by the Democratic Attorney General Jan Graham.
Riggs left the governor's office in 1997 and joined Rob Jolley to form the lobbying firm, RRJ Consulting.
"Everyone knew Robin and liked Robin. Robin didn't have a mean bone in him and that's saying a lot for someone who has spent his whole life working in politics," Sibbett said. "As friendly and as nice a guy as he was, he was really a deep political thinker. He was a master strategist. And people would seek out his counsel on how to pass this or how to do that."
He became vice president of policy and law at the telecommunications company U.S. West and went on to be Utah president of the company in 2001, after it had been rebranded as Qwest.
In 2003, he was hired as executive vice president and general counsel for the Chamber, a post he held for 10 years.
"Robin's skills as a professional were unparalleled," Beattie said. "In each position he excelled, touching the lives of those he worked with."
Since leaving the chamber, Riggs had been involved in several business ventures and continued lobbying and consulting work at the Capitol.
In 2005, Riggs married Patricia Paulsen, raising her four children, who were between the ages of 5 and 13. The couple later had twin daughters, who are now 8 years old.
"He had longed for a family for many years, came into it in a very late point in his life," said Parry Harrison, Riggs' oldest stepson. "It jump-started his family right away. … He just gave his heart and his wisdom and all his energy to his stepchildren [and his daughters]."
Harrison said Riggs already had taken on the role of surrogate father by the time he married Paulsen. Riggs' brother died at age 42 and Riggs became the surrogate father to those children.
"He kind of just became their dad and immediately after [his brother] died he took them to Disneyland and was there at all their games and recitals," Harrison said.
Riggs was a football fan, rooting for both Utah and BYU, and had season tickets for several years to the Utah games. He also enjoyed golf, food and movies.
A viewing is scheduled for Sunday at 6 p.m., at 2130 Gyrfalcon Drive in Sandy. A pre-funeral viewing will be held there Sunday, 6-8 p.m. and Monday, 10:30-11:30 a.m. The funeral is scheduled for noon Monday.