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Boyer Jarvis, civic activist and University of Utah professor, dies at 95

(Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Boyer Jarvis, longtime communications professor at the University of Utah and civic activist, in a 2003 photo. Jarvis died March 28, 2019.

Boyer Jarvis, a professor and administrator at the University of Utah for more than 30 years and a devoted civic activist for more than 60 years, has died.

He died Thursday in his Salt Lake City home at the age of 95, his family reported.

In a tweet Friday, Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, wrote that Jarvis “lived a life of public service, kindness, and activism. He inspired young minds and was a teacher to all who knew him. I will miss him.”

In a 2004 op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Jarvis mused on “my privileged situation in the United States of America as a white male heterosexual whose parents had always loved and supported him.” The essay reads as a summation of a man who knew life was good to him, so he wanted to give back.

“I had benefited since my undergraduate days at the University of Arizona from teachers and mentors who encouraged me to grow intellectually and who pointed to ways for me to progress professionally,” Jarvis wrote. “What bound me to the University of Utah was this web of colleagues and administrative officers whom I greatly admired, and who were genuinely committed to excellence in every aspect of the university's teaching, research and service to the state and nation.”

Jarvis added, “the university enabled me to pursue my passion to extend to as many of my fellow humans as possible the full range of benefits, rights and responsibilities that I enjoyed and too often took for granted.” His efforts included recruiting minority faculty, staff and students at the U., removing housing and employment barriers for women and minorities, and battling censorship in public libraries.

After his retirement in 1989, Jarvis wrote in 2004 that he “continued to devote time and effort to a variety of what I regard as good causes.” He listed an end to nuclear weapons testing, keeping high-level nuclear waste out of Utah, protecting children from abuse and neglect, supporting affordable health care, and battling racism and bigotry in all forms. Later in life, he added support for same-sex marriage to that list.

“He was one of the gentlest men I ever met,” said Louis Borgenicht, a retired Salt Lake City pediatrician who knew Jarvis from peace protests and other activist events.

J. Boyer Jarvis was born June 1, 1923, in Springville, Utah, the oldest of Mildred Boyer’s and Joseph S. Jarvis’ eight children. He graduated from Mesa Union High School, in Mesa, Ariz., in 1941. He briefly attended Harvard, but got his bachelor’s degree in 1947 from the University of Arizona, and a master’s from Arizona State University in 1950.

Jarvis arrived in Utah in June 1955, to do research on his Ph.D. dissertation for Northwestern University. He got a job as a teaching assistant at the University of Utah, and as assistant to the dean of the College of Letters and Science.

In 1955, he met and, on Dec. 17 of that year, married Patricia Potts Annand. They had three children, Seth, Nathan and MaryBeth.

In 1956, Jarvis was hired as an assistant professor of speech at the U., and became a full professor in 1967.

He held a slew of administrative posts at the U. during his tenure, topped with associate vice president of academic affairs from 1967 to 1988.

In a 90th birthday letter to Jarvis in 2013, the U.’s then-president, David Pershing, called Jarvis a role model. “You were the go-to guy whenever there were faculty challenges or policy issues,” Pershing wrote. “We now need about four people to cover the waterfront that you used to tend by yourself.”

One of Jarvis’ jobs, from 1957 to 1960, was as associate programming director of the university’s fledgling public television station, KUED. “Boyer had the vision and foresight to recognize what public broadcasting could do for the state,” Fred Esplin, a vice president at the U. in 2009, wrote in a note that was read when Jarvis received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities.

In 2009, Jarvis joined with 13 other elder activists — including the late former Gov. Olene Walker — to form the Utah Citizens’ Counsel, to offer advice on major issues. The first issue on the group’s agenda was fair redistricting for Utah’s congressional and legislative districts.

In 2012, Jarvis became the first man to receive an Honorary Outstanding Achievement Award from the Utah chapter of the YWCA. Jarvis was a member of the chapter’s Community Advisory Board for many years.

Anne Burkholder, Salt Lake YWCA’s CEO, credited Jarvis for suggesting and raising funds for the statue of Mahatma Gandhi that was unveiled at the opening of the group’s Center for Families in 2012. The sculpture was commissioned by the Gandhi Alliance for Peace, on whose behalf Jarvis approached the YWCA, and was created by Utah sculptor Dennis Smith.

At various times, he also served on the boards of ACLU Utah, the NAACP’s Salt Lake branch, the Utah Heritage Foundation, the Salt Lake City Library, Voices for Utah Children, United Nations Association of Utah, and the Salt Lake chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG).

Praising that tireless dedication to service, the Utah Democratic Party said in a statement that “his leadership and contribution to the betterment of humanity will be missed by all Utahns.”

Jarvis is survived by his wife, Pat; two sons, Seth and Nathan; a daughter, MaryBeth Jarvis Clark; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and five siblings, Kenneth, John, George, Jesse and Susann. Two brothers, Wesley and Jarrett, died previously.

A memorial service will take place Saturday, June 1, at the University of Utah (venue and time to be announced). In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Jarvis’ memory to “your favorite organization that promotes education, arts, peace, human rights, social justice and equality.”

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