Nancy Workman, Salt Lake County’s first mayor, dies at 79

(Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman at a press conference in 2004. Workman responded to criminal charges against her for misuse of public funds. An independent, bipartisan panel of County Attorneys claimed there was sufficient evidence to sustain two felony charges against Workman for misuse of public funds.

Salt Lake County’s first mayor, Nancy Workman, has died at her home in St. George.

Workman, 79, was remembered in her obituary for a series of other firsts in her life — as a woman in construction, working with Arabian horses and desert motorcycle racing — achievements that “went far beyond her life in politics.” She died peacefully at home on May 3.

Workman ran for county mayor at 59, after being elected twice as Salt Lake County recorder. Before she took office in January 2001, Salt Lake County was governed by a County Commission.

She was placed on paid administrative leave in September 2004, and Alan Dayton, her deputy mayor, took over after that. She battled felony-level misuse of public funds charges in connection with bookkeepers who were hired by the county health department but worked for her daughter, Aisza Wilde, then the chief financial officer for the South Valley Boys and Girls Clubs.

A jury acquitted Workman of both charges in February 2005. The defense insisted there was no crime because the county routinely donated money and manpower to nonprofit organizations that provide services to the community.

She notably didn’t take a plea deal that would have reduced both charges to misdemeanors. Her attorney, Greg Skordas, told reporters at the time, “Nancy, to her credit, stuck it out. She didn’t want to plead to something she didn’t do, just to avoid a felony.”

After the verdict, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that a smiling and laughing Workman said, ''I’m so thrilled I can’t stand it.'' She said her immediate plans were to “quit shaking and give my husband a hug.” Salt Lake County subsequently paid her $100,000 to settle her claim for legal expenses.

Workman later served as president and CEO of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, which she saw as a “positive place to be as opposed to politics," she said when she retired from the post in 2010.

In a Facebook post, the Utah Republican Party mourned Workman, writing, “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also posted about the loss, saying, “Nancy Workman was a trailblazer on many fronts.”

In a Salt Lake Tribune profile in October 2000, Workman said she decided to run for mayor because she felt the county’s future was at stake.

“There was not a burning desire to do this at first,” Workman acknowledged. “But as things went on I got into it up to my eyeballs. I’m vested in this now. I want balance in this new government. I want to make sure things get done right.”

Workman was born in Boise but also reared in Salt Lake City. At age 12, she took on household duties when her mother suffered a debilitating stroke and died a few years later. She cared for her brother and father through her teenage years.

"She became an enterprising and independent person very early in life," her older brother, Cal Bosse of West Jordan, said in the 2000 profile. "Her mom's incapacitation forced her to grow up fast, and she had a father who encouraged her every step of the way."

She started her own public relations company after graduating from the University of Utah, then founded a vocational school, the Salt Lake Academy of Design. Her first marriage was short.

After growing up with horses in Idaho, the 2000 profile said, she became involved in the Salt Lake Valley’s Arabian horse scene, where she met Reed Workman. She married him in 1973 and took on president and CEO roles for Aspen Creek Excavation and Workman Construction.

“I was the first female general engineer contractor in the state,” Workman said in 2000. “I’d hand out my business card and guys would fall out of their chair laughing. In the 1970s, the whole idea of a woman doing this was ludicrous. It took a lot of effort and patience to establish that women belong in this business.”

Her obituary said Workman was a skilled Arabian horse breeder and was among the first women to compete at Arabian horse shows. The Workmans later purchased thoroughbreds and with partners, began racing. Their prize possession in 2000 was Cover Gal, a filly that had earned nearly $600,000 at the time.

Reed Workman died in 2010.

Workman took up off-road motorcycle races in her late 30s and won a division championship, the profile said. Her obituary said she was a founding member of the Sage Riders Motorcycle Club, and, again, notched another first, or close to it, in desert motorcycle racing as woman.

“She was the best woman out there,” Aisza Workman said in 2000. “When she decides to do something, she jumps right out there and even gives the boys heck.”

As Salt Lake County recorder she integrated online software for real property document recording — becoming the first recorder’s office in the country to do so, her obituary said.

And, of course, she was Salt Lake County’s first mayor, and the last Republican to hold the office.

This story includes reporting from 2000 from then-reporter Joe Baird.

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