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Orrin Hatch remembered at funeral as a Senate great who embraced adversaries

Hatch entered the Senate as a political novice in 1977 and left 42 years later.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Family and friends of former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch watch as final honors are performed by the Utah Army National Guard after the funeral at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 6, 2022. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history and the longest-serving from Utah, died April 23 at age 88.

Orrin Hatch entered the U.S. Senate at the age of 42 with no political experience and stuck around for seven terms, becoming one of the body’s most successful members, championing conservative causes while listening to liberal adversaries, mourners at the senator’s funeral eulogized Friday afternoon.

The former Republican senator crafted hundreds of laws that affect every American today, leaving a durable legacy on the nation’s politics. But the late senator was also remembered at his Salt Lake City funeral service as a regular guy who played music with friends, enjoyed Jazz basketball and all Utah sports, prayed every day and had a weakness for Costco’s $1.50 hot dogs that came with all the condiments he could pile on the bun.

“Because of his deep-seated faith and belief in the goodness of humankind, he always reached out to those in need, whether they be powerful and wealthy or downtrodden and tempest-tossed. He believed in the power of civility and the essential goodness of the American people,” said his longtime friend A. Scott Anderson, a prominent Utah banking executive. “He was a man of strong principles who had a habit of making friends with everyone, including adversaries. He was the go-to guy to fight for things people needed to grow and thrive.”

Anderson was among several speakers to address the packed audience at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City. A lifelong member of Utah’s predominant faith, Hatch died on April 23 at age 88. Latter-day Saint apostle Dallin H. Oaks presided over the 90-minute service.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pallbearers carry the casket of former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch after funeral services at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 6, 2022. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history and the longest-serving from Utah, died April 23 at age 88.

Following the funeral, a procession accompanied Hatch’s casket the 79 miles north to Newton, a Cache Valley town where Hatch’s wife Elaine Hansen Hatch was raised. With military rites, the senator was laid to rest in the Newton Cemetery.

Hatch is survived by his wife, six sons and daughters and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Rev. France Davis of the Calvary Baptist Church gave the invocation at the funeral that was attended by several sitting senators, including Utah’s Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Cornyn of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Susan Collins of Maine and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Also paying their respects were Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and former governors Gary Herbert and Jon M. Huntsman Jr.

(Kristen Murphy | Pool) President Dallin H. Oaks, left, first counselor in the First Presidency, talks with Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) before the start of former Sen. Orrin Hatch's funeral at the Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City Friday, May 6, 2022.

Hatch was a prolific songwriter and the service included two musical numbers penned by Hatch with Janice Kapp Perry. Several Hatch grandchildren sang a piece titled “No Empty Chair,” a celebration of family gatherings.

Marcia Hatch Whetton remembered her dad as the busiest, most hardworking person she has ever known.

“Because he was so much fun to be around, we wanted him to be there with us always. We knew that although he was busy and had much to do, we could count on him if we needed him,” she said. “We also knew in our hearts that this was his calling in life to serve this great country and the people of Utah. And although it felt like a sacrifice at times not having him with us, it was all worth it.”

Much of the fun centered around music, which Hatch composed and performed his whole life.

Brent Hatch recalled his dad’s earliest compositions, such as “The Love We Give,” the one song he recorded with a Mormon-themed folk-rock band called Free Agency, which was printed on white vinyl, and a holiday song titled “The Eight Days of Hannukah.”

“Look it up,” Brent said. “You’ll never get it out of your head.”

Former Sen. Gordon Smith carried on the musical theme to characterize Hatch’s rise into the “pantheon of America’s greatest senators.”

“Orrin had the humility and the wisdom to be a student of the Senate that led him to listen and to learn. So he set about to master the complexities of process and substance,” said Smith, a Republican who represented Oregon in the Senate from 1997 to 2009. “Orrin came to revere the institution of the Senate. I saw him become one of its champions in defending and strengthening it. He learned its rhythms. He knew his timings, and he sat with the appropriate tones in debate.”

Although he grew up in Pittsburgh, Hatch’s roots went deep into Utah’s Uinta Basin, where in 1879 his family settled what was initially called Hatchtown, but later known as Vernal. Their fathers were born in Vernal and moved away, according to Oaks.

“What drew us together was our families’ early and common pioneering roots in the same unsettled area of Utah,” Oaks said, who said the men had been friends for 50 years after first meeting at Brigham Young University.

Both Oaks and Hatch are recipients of the Canterbury Medal for their efforts to defend religious freedom.

McConnell told mourners that he and Hatch had both been endorsed as Senate candidates by Ronald Reagan.

“The Gipper,” however, got both their names wrong, endorsing candidates named “Warren Hatch” and “Mitch O’Donnell,” said McConnell, the Senate’s minority leader. He lauded Hatch a master legislator.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The funeral procession for former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch arrives at Newton Cemetary where Hatch was interred, Friday, May 6, 2022. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history and the longest-serving from Utah, died April 23 at age 88.

“Sometimes that meant shepherding bold conservative victories, from his epic fight against Robert Byrd (a West Virginia Democratic that is the longest-serving senator in history) and Big Labor during his first term to historic tax reform during his last,” McConnell said. “But Orrin also championed bipartisan efforts to lift up the vulnerable. Children’s health insurance. Americans with disabilities. Generic drugs. HIV, AIDS. The suicide lifeline. Orrin took his legislation to the same place where our savior took his ministry, to the margins, to the periphery, serving the least of these.”

According to Hatch’s son Brent, the senator took on a tireless work ethic in honor of his brother, an Army aviator who was killed in combat in World War II. Although hardly a teenager, Hatch’s hair began turning white shortly after learning about the death of Jesse Hatch, a nose gunner in a B-24 that was shot down in 1945 over Austria.

“Recognizing that his brother’s life had been cut short led my father to commit to work and experience enough for two lives, his and the one his brother was unable to live,” Brent Hatch said. “That white streak in his hair was a constant reminder of that commitment.”

Smith credited Hatch’s humble beginnings for a compassionate nature that enabled him to draw out the best in his colleagues, especially those with whom he disagreed.

“He understood that legislating required hard, painstaking work. Work that requires building trust, the kind of trust that is earned day by day and year after year,” Smith said. “He sought to comprehend and accommodate positions different from his own. Orrin understood in his bones that the best way to ruin a good story is to hear the other side.”

Hatch strove to navigate the discord inherent in politics and sought to comprehend positions other than his own, all in search of a “common-sense center” necessary to make good laws, not just noise, Smith told funeral attendees.

“All of this sounds at odds with the polarization of the present day,” Smith said, “but it serves as a model for what politics must again become, if our system is to function well, our democracy is to prosper.”

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