Patty Henetz, former Tribune reporter, dies at 69; covered the environment, artifact thefts and 2002 Olympics

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) In this undated photo, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Patti Henetz, at right, checks out Deon McCormick's painting of a ceramic piece at the Westside Senior Center in Salt Lake City.

Patty Henetz, a reporter who covered everything from the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to environmental issues for both of Salt Lake City’s major daily newspapers and The Associated Press, has died at 69.

Henetz died March 23, after suffering for several years from corticobasal degeneration, a neurological disease that attacks the cerebral cortex.

Henetz’s reporting revealed a deep command of facts, and a sharp wit.

“She was a feisty thing, and very, very hardworking,” said Judy Voye, a retired film instructor and longtime friend.

A former Tribune colleague, Derek Jensen, wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend, “Patty had grit. And soul, for miles. … She cared. She worked stories longer and harder than anyone. Young journalists learned from her once they overcame their fear.”

(Tribune file photo) Patty Henetz

An example of Henetz’s deep knowledge and lucid writing is the opening paragraph of a story filed Dec. 19, 2008, when activist Tim DeChristopher disrupted a Bureau of Land Management sale of oil and gas leases:

“He didn't pour sugar into a bulldozer's gas tank. He didn't spike a tree or set a billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder's paddle, a University of Utah student just as surely monkey-wrenched a federal oil- and gas-lease sale Friday, ensuring that thousands of acres near two southern Utah national parks won't be opened to drilling anytime soon.”

Another story Henetz covered extensively involved the 2009 investigation that netted more than two dozen people, most from Blanding, Utah, accused of trafficking in illegal antiquities. Her work included interviews over several months with an undercover FBI informant, Ted Gardiner, who helped the feds bust the trafficking ring. Gardiner, fearing reprisal, died by suicide in 2010.

Patricia Lee Henetz was born Feb. 25, 1950, in San Diego County, Calif., the daughter of Virginia Fowler Henetz and U.S. Marine Capt. Michael Henetz. She grew up in Southern California, attending high school at Oceanside High School. She received a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and a master’s degree from University of California-San Diego, both in history. Her specialty was the American West in the 20th century.

“She really loved the West, and the history of the West,” Voye said.

Voye and Henetz met as employees at Alta in the early 1970s. “She had a college roommate who had come to Utah to ski, and she called Patty [saying], ‘You have to get out here,’” Voye recalled.

Henetz loved the outdoors, Voye said, and for a while split her time between the Utah slopes and the California beaches.

Henetz’s first jobs as a reporter, Voye said, were in northern California in the late 1970s, first at a small-town paper near Sacramento, then at the Sacramento Bee. She moved around a lot in the 1970s and ‘80s, back to southern California and briefly to Telluride, Colo., but she always came back to Utah.

“She just loved it here,” Voye said.

Henetz wrote at the Deseret News in the early 1990s, then worked a stint at the Salt Lake City bureau of The Associated Press from 1993 to 1994. She reported for The Salt Lake Tribune from 1994 to 1999, covering government and health care issues, as well as the preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

After graduate studies in Maryland, Henetz returned to The Associated Press in Salt Lake City, from 2001 to 2004, and was involved in AP’s Olympics coverage. She jumped back to The Tribune in 2004, staying until a staff layoff in 2012. She moved to Bend, Ore., for a stretch, then returned to Salt Lake City to work as a freelancer.

Henetz joined other ex-Tribune staffers to work on a lawsuit against The Tribune’s then-owners, the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, and the Deseret News over the joint operating agreement that governs the business operations of both papers.

( Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Joan O'Brien of Utah Newspaper Project/Citizens for Two Voices, left, announces that the group is dismissing its antitrust lawsuit as the sale of The Salt Lake Tribune to Paul Huntsman closed, Tuesday May 31, 2016. The group held a press conference at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, with O'Brien at left, attorney Karra Porter, Ted McDonough, Patty Henetz and Dave Richards.

“Patty was really there for the fight,” said Joan O’Brien, daughter of former Tribune publisher Jerry O’Brien, and one of the founders of the nonprofit Save the Salt Lake Tribune Foundation, which filed the lawsuit. “She was definitely adamant about the cause.”

The lawsuit accused Alden and the Deseret News of changing the revenue split between the papers in a way that threatened the Tribune’s existence and violating the federal law that governs joint agreements between newspapers. The case ultimately was settled when Alden sold The Tribune to the Huntsman family.

In 2003, Henetz married Vern Anderson, who was AP’s Salt Lake City bureau chief from 1980 to 1999 and worked at the Tribune from 1999 to 2013, taking the job of editorial page editor in 2002. They divorced in 2011.

Henetz is survived by a brother, Michael Henetz of Alturas, Calif., and two nieces.

No funeral services are planned. Following her wishes, her body was donated to the University of Utah. Donations are suggested to organizations researching brain disease, such as CurePSP (psp.org) or the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (theaftd.org).

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