Don Gale: A few memories of Orrin Hatch

I had never heard of this new arrival to Utah who wanted to run for the U.S. Senate.

(Ira Schwarz | AP) President Ronald Reagan is presented a jacket and autographed football from the coach of the National Champion college football team in the nation, LaVell Edwards, head coach of the Brigham Young University Cougars. With them is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, center on Jan. 14, 1985, in Washington.

It was 1976 – late March or early April. The phone rang: “This is Orrin Hatch. I would like to meet with you. Could you come to my office?”

Like most Utahns at the time, I had never heard of Orrin Hatch. But his request sounded as if it might involve paid work, and I was a struggling writer/consultant. I jumped at every work opportunity that came along.

Our meeting was at his offices in the old Continental Bank Building at Second South and Main. He told me he had not lived in Utah long, but he was planning to run for the Republican nomination to be United States senator.

I told him the nominee had already been well decided – a classmate of mine from East High who had made a national name for himself in the business world. I asked if he had any campaign money. He said he had raised an amount so low that I had trouble not laughing. I asked if he had a campaign manager.

He named a local TV personality who happened to be the wife of his law partner. I knew she had little, if any, experience in politics.

We talked for about an hour about issues, about politics, about campaign strategy, and so on. He tentatively offered me a job, but he said he could not pay me until after the primary in June. I had bills to pay. I declined the conditional offer, telling him that I could not support some of his political positions.

As I stood to leave, Hatch asked what he needed to do. I told him he had no name recognition in Utah; he needed a major event to gain visibility.

He asked for a suggestion. I told him there was a governor in California named Reagan who appealed to many Utahns. He should try to get Reagan to come to Utah and endorse him.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Be assured that I do not take any credit for Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the Capitol Theatre a few weeks later. I’m sure someone was working on those arrangements before my conversation with Hatch.

Sen. Hatch and I laughed about that meeting years later whenever I visited with him in Washington.

Above all, Orrin Hatch was a good man. His values were the values of a good man. He always gave top priority to the individual needs of his constituents.

He literally saved the life of a friend of mine. (No, Hatch did not know about our friendship.) When my professional duties made it necessary for me to visit Washington three or four times a year, Hatch always was available for my quiz sessions, something other elected representatives refused to do. He talked with and listened to those who disagreed with his political positions. In most cases, he did not consider such individuals inferior, just different.

During one of our later meetings in his Washington office a couple of decades ago, he insisted on playing a recording of music he had a hand in creating. He was proud of that dimension of his life. And those of us who knew him were proud of the Hatch dimension of our lives.

One of the last times I saw him was waiting for a Pioneer Day parade to begin. He was in an open carriage with Ron McBride, the remarkable Utah football coach. We talked briefly.

Clearly, he was not what he had been at our first meeting decades earlier. But he remembered me. We laughed about old times. Then the parade began, and his horse-drawn carriage moved on.

Orrin Hatch played a meaningful role in Utah’s parade – in the nation’s parade. I will miss him. Utah will miss him. The nation will miss him. Enjoy the music of a meaningful life, Orrin.

Don Gale.

Because of folks such as Orrin Hatch, Don Gale is glad he switched from medicine to journalism almost seven decades ago.