Guard slain at embassy in Libya was once a Snowbird ski bum
To his many Utah friends, Glen Doherty was one of those rare individuals whose magnetic personality impressed everyone he encountered.
"He's the greatest person I ever met and since Day One it's always been like that," Salt Lake City businessman Mark "Elf" Ellefsen said Friday of Doherty, a former Snowbird ski bum, river runner and brine-shrimp fisherman who died Tuesday in Libya, where he was a private security guard for slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
"Glen Doherty never shied from adventure," President Barack Obama said Friday at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., during the transfer of remains ceremony for Doherty, Stevens and the two other Americans killed in Tuesday's attack.
"Glen was a wonderfully exciting, enthusiastic, sweet person," concurred Marta Heilbrun, a University Hospital radiologist. "He was smart. He was thoughtful. Everywhere he went he made friends and made you feel like a champion."
Or as professional ski photographer Brent Benson put it: "He was one of those guys you meet and you instantly like. â¦ His smile could light up the room."
Doherty, 42, spent much of the early 1990s in Utah, moving here from Massachusetts to ski the steep and deep snows of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Even after he left in 1995 to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, Doherty returned to Salt Lake almost every winter to get his skiing fix and to see friends, many of whom worked with him during the winter at Snowbird's Lodge Bistro or in the summer with Colorado River & Trails Expeditions.
Ellefsen met Doherty in the fall of 1990, hiking into Alta's upper-elevation snow fields to make some turns before the season began. They hit it off immediately.
"I was 18. He was 19. That kid was exceptionally wise for his years," said Ellefsen, now the president of Streamline Industries, an industrial equipment manufacturer. "The intellect he had then was mind-blowing. He's one of those people in life who is exceptional on every level."
Doherty could and did ski anything, Ellefsen said, preferring the "steepest lines through the gnarliest stuff off The Cirque or Mount Baldy," two of Snowbird's renowned expert slopes.
But what really impressed Jon Olivera, his roommate in a Sandy apartment through a couple of those winters, was that "while he was out there doing the same thing as any of the great skiers you know, he didn't seek recognition for it."
Doherty's picture appeared occasionally in ski magazines, sometimes in shots by Benson, who has a photograph on the cover of the latest issue of Powder magazine.
"He had a special style, swinging his arms and upper torso," said David Brown, now an environmental consultant in Salt Lake City who skied with Doherty and, along with Olivera, worked with him for two summers on brine-shrimp boats on the Great Salt Lake. "He was a Snowbird skier, super aggressive, an Ã¼berathlete good at everything he did."
But skiing, waiting tables at the Bistro, taking rafts down the Colorado River and harvesting brine shrimp were not enough to satisfy Doherty's inner drive. And so in 1995, he became a Navy SEAL.
"He just wanted to challenge himself," said Brown.
In trips back to Utah, Doherty said little about his military service or his private security work after leaving the SEALs in 2005. He told friends where he'd been "it was always someplace exotic," Heilbrun said but didn't elaborate much.
Nor did his friends push him. "We didn't talk about all the stuff he did. He didn't need to talk about that," said Ellefsen. "But I knew Glen was extra special when he pulled out photos of himself sitting at Saddam [Hussein's] palace in Iraq. It was like, 'Wow, dude. You were the first one in there.' "
From his conversations with Doherty, Brown said he could tell "the bonds Glen developed with his field comrades were special. It's really given me a tremendous appreciation for those guys who lay it on the line for us."
Ellefsen saw Doherty in California about 2 Â½ weeks ago. They surfed together for a day and exchanged big bear hugs before parting ways. Doherty had said he was headed for Libya in a few days, but left it at that.
"He always told us it was safe so we didn't worry," Ellefsen said. "No matter how afraid he may have been, he would never let any of us know the true fear because he wouldn't want to burden anyone with that anxiety."
But over the past couple of days, as word of Doherty's death spread through the news and social media, his Utah friends have exchanged condolences and marveled at the remarkable impact he had on their lives.
"For all of his accomplishments," said Brown, "the dude was super humble and absolutely genuine. He's going to be sorely missed. It gives you pause when someone like that leaves this Earth."
The Washington Post contributed to this report.