Gene Pack, who introduced generations of Utahns to classical music in his 40 years as a midday host on public radio station KUER, has died.
Pack died in Salt Lake City on March 3 at the age of 86. No cause of death is mentioned in his official obituary, but friends said he had suffered from dementia in recent years.
“Gene was one of those people who just loved life, he loved other people, and he absolutely loved arts in every form,” said Mary Dickson, host of KUED’s community events program “Contact,” who knew Pack for more than 30 years. “He had become such an icon. He was a legend in this town, because you would see him at everything.”
Pack was host of KUER’s classical-music programming from 1960, when the station went on the air, to March 2001, when the station’s midday format was changed from classical music to all news and talk.
Maria O’Mara, KUER’s general manager, called Pack “an important part of the development of our station.” She noted that Pack had created an audience for the station long before KUER became a charter member of National Public Radio in 1971 with the introduction of “All Things Considered.”
O’Mara said Pack’s experience as an actor informed his radio job. “Radio is such an intimate medium, and he understood that. It was just innate in him,” O’Mara said.
O’Mara was an intern at KUER in 1993, and Pack “intimidated me just a bit,” she said. “He was this stately, goateed wise man with the deep broadcast voice. … [But] he was always very kind, generous with his time, and just very willing to be part of the team.”
On his final day as classical-music host on March 16, 2001, Pack played Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony and broke down.
“I’m devastated, of course,” Pack said then. “It’s something I’ve done for 40 years, it’s been my identity, and it’s gone. One can only feel hollow.”
The format change was announced abruptly, and drew heavy criticism from loyal listeners. Pack stayed on at KUER as an arts reporter for about 15 months before retiring in the summer of 2002, a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday.
It was not a quiet retirement. Pack emceed the Gina Bachauer piano competition, narrated chamber concerts, and took part in productions and readings with Salt Lake Acting Company, The Grand Theatre and Utah Lyric Opera.
Acting was always one of Pack’s passions. In his younger days, Pack was involved in the alternative theater company Theater 138, which ran from 1966 to 1986. Dickson recalled Pack’s portrayal of Billy Flynn, the razzle-dazzle lawyer in the musical “Chicago,” as a highlight of his acting career.
When he wasn’t onstage, Dickson said, Pack was an avid audience member at theater productions and concerts. “He’s a real bon vivant,” Dickson said. “I can still hear that laugh of his.”
Eugene Grant Pack II was born July 29, 1932, in Salt Lake City, to parents Eugene Grant Pack and Lucile Clara (Payne) Pack. He starred in a play at Kingsbury Hall at age 12, and joined his high school’s radio club. He received a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the University of Utah.
Pack never married. He is survived by his brother, Dennis Pack, and Dennis’ wife Carol, of Winona, Minn., as well as two nephews, two grand-nieces, a grand-nephew and several cousins.
No funeral is planned, in keeping with Pack’s wishes. A memorial service to celebrate his life is planned, but no date has been set. People are asked to send memorials to Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.