Longtime UTA chief John Pingree dies at 80

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A UTA bus in Downtown Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

John Pingree, who led the Utah Transit Authority for nearly 20 years, has died at the age of 80.

According to his obituary, John Cannon Pingree died “peacefully at home … surrounded by family … after a 17-year fight with cancer.”

When the Salt Lake native, a graduate of West High and the University of Utah, was named general manager of UTA in 1977, it was operating in just three counties — Salt Lake, Davis and Weber. By the time he was forced out in 1997, UTA had expanded to six counties, nearly doubled the number of buses it operated and laid the groundwork for the TRAX light rail system.

In the mid-1990s, disputes within the UTA board and opposition to TRAX by some members of the Utah Legislature and the Salt Lake County Commission led to Pingree’s ouster, but the system has since grown to three lines and more than 50 stations that stretch from Salt Lake City to South Jordan, Draper and West Valley City.

Ironically, Pingree was ousted as general manager of UTA just months after the organization received an award from the American Public Transit Association as the best managed agency of its size in the country for the second time.

Pingree earned an MBA at Harvard Business School and worked at Xerox, Memorex and Transportation Safety Systems before being named general manager of UTA.

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pingree served a mission to Argentina and was a bishop and stake president. He also served as a mission president in Mexico and as an Area Seventy working with Spanish-speakers.

Among his assignments was the Hispanic Initiative, aimed at both proselytizing Spanish speakers and helping all Latinos — Latter-day Saints or not — with legal problems caused by language barriers or discrimination.

“Many come here and get victimized,” Pingree told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2004. “We try to help them receive fairness.”

Pingree also served on the Utah State Board of Education and Utah State Board of Regents.

He is survived by his wife of more than 55 years, Carmen, five children, 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday at noon at the Garden Heights Latter-day Saint Chapel at 2220 Fisher Lane in Millcreek. There will be viewings at that location on Monday from 6-8 p.m. and Tuesday from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

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