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Once upon a time at the Utah Legislature, Republicans and Democrats would caucus together and discuss important issues.

That the Democrats, as the minority, had a seat at the table seems unachievable today.

But when Miles "Cap" Ferry was president of the Utah Senate more than 30 years ago, the minority got heard, said former Democratic legislator Mike Dmitrich, who was House minority leader when Ferry headed the Senate.

Ferry died late Friday night at age 84. He is remembered as a gentleman with no ego who used that charm to get things done.

"He was pretty low-key at the Legislature," Dmitrich said. "But he was a big deal on the national stage."

Ferry, who led the Senate from 1979 to 1984, was president of National Conference of State Legislatures in 1983-84. In all, he served 20 years in the Utah Legislature, three in the House and 17 in the Senate.

When Norm Bangerter became the first GOP governor elected in 20 years in Utah, he appointed Ferry, a farmer and rancher from the northern Utah hamlet of Corrine, to be his agriculture commissioner. Bangerter had served as House speaker when Ferry was Senate president. Ferry remained in the agriculture post until Bangerter left office in 1993.

Bangerter died two years ago, but his lieutenant governor, Val Oveson, recalls Ferry as an accomplished administrator who led the way on farmland-preservation programs and irrigation initiatives.

"He was a great leader," Oveson said.

Haven Barlow, who logged 38 years in the Senate, said rarely did a measure Ferry supported fail. "He was very effective at getting his bills passed," Barlow said.

Former House Speaker Nolan Karras said Ferry's secret was his humility.

"That's what drew people to him," Karras said. "He wasn't a showoff. He got things done because he was so approachable."

While the adjectives "humble," "quiet" and "low-key" fit Ferry's personality, he also was known for his unusual choice of clothing.

"He wore a red plaid tuxedo to the governor's galas," said longtime lobbyist and former Weber County Commissioner Spencer Stokes. "That got attention."

He also used his wardrobe to send signals about key legislative events, Stokes added. "He had this loud, wide tie that had dollar signs all over it. He would wear that tie on the day the budget figures were to be released."

Ferry was born Sept. 22, 1932, and grew up on a farm in northern Utah. He graduated from Utah State University and, with his wife, Sue, ran a large agriculture business, raising cattle and growing alfalfa. He won the Outstanding Young Farmer award in 1958 and was the Future Farmers of America's "Honorary State Farmer" in 1975.

After he left state government, he and Sue built a lobbying business with as many as 20 clients during legislative sessions.

The Ferrys developed an international market for their beef and enjoyed a warm relationship with the Taiwanese government, which reached out to individual states after the federal government no longer recognized Taiwan as the official Chinese government.

Because of those ties, the Ferrys for several years took Utah groups to Taiwan, paid for by the Taipei government, for so-called "friendship missions."

"Cap was an honorable man who devoted years of his life to serving the people of our state. He loved Utah, and Utah loved him back," said Sen. Orrin Hatch. "As Utah's agriculture commissioner, Cap led with strength and fairness, helping to guide our state to prosperity amid challenging times."

Ferry leaves behind his wife, four children — including a son who served for several years in the Utah House — and 23 grandchildren.

A viewing is scheduled Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Myers Mortuary in Brigham City, and Monday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Brigham City LDS West Stake Center, followed by the funeral at 1 p.m.