This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utahns paid their last tributes and said goodbye Thursday evening in the Utah Capitol to a Beehive State original, former Gov. Olene Walker.
Walker, the only woman to hold the top office in the state's 119-year history, died Saturday at the age of 85.
The lifelong Republican was a political moderate who believed in the power of compromise and never let ego get in the way of what she considered good public policy, or personal friendships.
Asked how she wanted to be remembered in her final Salt Lake Tribune interview in September, Walker was characteristically down-to-earth.
"That I was kind and caring and somewhat intelligent. That I was willing to listen. And that I was not only willing to talk, but I was willing to do. That I worked my best to improve conditions for everyone in the state," she said.
Walker is the first governor to lie in state in the Capitol since the late Gov. Scott Matheson, in 1990.
Former Gov. Norm Bangerter, who died in April, had a public viewing and funeral at a church and former Gov. Cal Rampton, who died in 2007, had his public viewing in the Governor's Mansion because the Capitol was closed for renovation.
Among those who paid respects Thursday evening were former Gov. Mike Leavitt, House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
"There has never been and never will be another Olene Walker," said Lynne Ward, former state budget director and deputy chief of staff to Walker. "She was a leader, a mentor, a friend."
"I was talking to someone today who called her a 'grand lady,'" Ward said, adding she thought that was a good description.
An Ogden native, Walker served just 14 months as governor, culminating a long stretch of public service. She spent eight years in the Utah Legislature and was one of the last Republicans to represent any House district in Salt Lake City, rising to become minority whip in her final term.
In 1992, she abandoned a campaign for the U.S. House to become Mike Leavitt's running mate and, for 11 years, his lieutenant governor. She held that post until Nov. 5, 2003, when Leavitt left office to head the Environmental Protection Agency in the President George W. Bush administration.
Charlie Johnson, Leavitt's chief of staff, said Thursday their time in office would have been far less fun and accomplished much less without Walker. He described her as the Leavitt team's "coach," because of her experience and mastery of government and legislative affairs.
"She will be remembered as a woman who did it all," said Natalie Gochnour, U. of U. associate dean of business and a former adviser to Walker, Leavitt and Bangerter.
Among her most storied achievements as governor was creation of an early reading initiative in schools, funded only after Walker engaged in hardball end-of-the-session negotiations with all-male legislative leaders and threatened a budget veto.
Hughes, the House speaker, has known Walker since he first got involved in Utah politics in 1991, said that reading-initiative showdown was "the one time the Legislature collectively blinked." She got the better of lawmakers in the negotiations and "I felt it," said Hughes, who described her as "tough but fair."
She also is noted for her legislation, enacted while she served in the state House, carving out a rainy day fund a sort of emergency savings account for the state to withstand lean budget years.
"Twenty years later, I am not sure how we would have navigated the Great Recession without the Rainy Day Fund. For that reason alone, we should all be grateful for Olene Walker," former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist wrote in a tribute Thursday.
Perhaps more importantly, said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, "She had a heart of gold."
Walker is survived by her husband of 61 years, Myron, seven children, 25 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
A viewing and funeral service for family and friends is scheduled Friday at the Canyon Rim Stake Center in Millcreek. Walker will be interred at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.