Sue Ferry, the matriarch of Utah lobbyists, dies at age 86

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Members of the public and lobbyists walk and wait outside the House of Representatives at the Utah State Capitol during the 2017 legislative session.

Sue Ferry, one of the first contract lobbyists in Utah and the matriarch of a family consulting business that remains a going concern, died Sunday of natural causes. She was 86.

Her obituary, published Thursday, described her as “a true political trailblazer.”

When Ferry first hung out a shingle as a contract lobbyist, her workplace — the marble hallways of the Utah Capitol — was a quiet, almost lonely place.

It was the early 1980s, and aside from a few in-house corporate consultants and government officials, there was Ferry and Doug Foxley.

“Sue and I were the pioneers of contract lobbying in Utah,” Foxley said Thursday. “I was the first and Sue was immediately thereafter — we’re talking 1980 to 1981.”

(photo courtesy Ron Fox) Sue Ferry just after the 1994 legislative session in the Capitol's Gold Room.

The hallways outside the Senate and House “were pretty empty at the time. There were a few elected officials and mayors but it was far different from the crowded scene we have today.”

Indeed, according to Justin Lee, state elections director, there are currently 539 active registered lobbyists. That works out to five lobbyists for each of the 104 elected lawmakers.

Every year now during the legislative session, especially the final days of the 45-day event, the hallways outside the chambers are so densely packed that it can be hard to cut a path through them.

While lobbyists may not have a particularly good image among the public, Utah’s part-time legislators say they depend upon them for information on issues that can be complex and have far-reaching implications. The trustworthy ones flourish, supporters argue, while those who try to spin or strong-arm fall by the wayside.

Ferry’s business, Legislative Executive Consulting, has certainly done well.

Her late husband, Miles “Cap” Ferry, was Senate president and then state agriculture commissioner when Sue Ferry started the firm and he later joined her in it. “They became a dynamic team to be reckoned with when it came to representing their clients,” Ron Fox, Utah historian and former lobbyist, said.

The firm is now headed by the Ferrys’ grandson, David Stewart, and its principals include his brother, Justin Stewart, and former Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis. David Stewart currently lists two dozen clients, ranging from Zions Bank to EnergySolutions to Salt Lake City.

Gary Thorup, another prominent lobbyist, is the son-in-law of the Ferrys.

The family also has strong ties to elected officials inside the legislative chambers. Freshman Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, is a grandson of the Ferrys and Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, is married to a granddaughter.

Sue Ferry had allowed her lobby license to lapse in 2017, capping a career that spanned some four decades.

“There was not a major issue over 35 years that Sue was not involved in,” Foxley said. “She was cagey and she was good. She always played ethically, fairly and honestly. And she set a great tradition that I hope others will follow.”

Funeral services for Ferry are scheduled Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Brigham City West Stake Center, 896 N. 625 West, Brigham City, with a viewing from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. A viewing also is scheduled for Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Myers Mortuary, 205 S. 100 E., Brigham City.