Tom Welch has come home from work early tonight - 9:15 p.m. Utah's Olympic boss isn't well-known for being a 9-to-5 kind of guy.
Since being summoned to the state's Olympic movement in 1985, Welch has juggled two full-time-plus jobs. The task keeps him on the phone well after midnight and before 6 a.m., beleaguered colleagues will say.Professionally, he is executive vice president and general counsel for Smith's Food & Drug, the largest grocery chain in the Mountain West. On his office wall hangs a law degree from George Washington University.
As a volunteer, he is chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee, which, if Utahns pass a Nov. 7 Olympic referendum, will carry Utah's 1998 Winter Olympics bid to the International Olympic Committee.
Welch, slouched comfortably on his living room sofa in a once-well-starched shirt, admits he "never envisioned I'd be in the grocery business," just as he acknowledges he was unprepared for the burden of his Olympic calling.
That came in 1985 when, in an unexpected phone call, Gov. Norm Bangerter and then Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson invited him to lunch and asked him to take the helm of the state's U.S. bid for the 1992 Winter Olympics.
"I guess the moral to that story is that, if you ever get invited to go to lunch with a Republican governor and a Democratic mayor, you'd better think twice," Welch said.
Welch lost a hastily prepared 1985 bid to Anchorage, Alaska, a blow Welch attributes to Salt Lake City's unsophisticated grasp of how the U.S. Olympic Committee, an immensely political body, makes its decisions.
Waiting for another chance to bid, Welch quietly played the role of student.
In Smith's boardrooms, Welch says the corporation learns a great deal from mistakes made by others. "We've really built our company on other people's failures," he said.
The lessons learned there have worked well in the Olympics arena as Welch watched Anchorage, the U.S. choice to host the Winter Olympics for eight years, begin to lose stock in the eyes of the USOC.
Last June, the USOC abandoned Anchorage, and Utah won the U.S. bid for the Games. "We learned the process at Anchorage's expense," Welch said.
Convincing Utahns in November, and the 93 members of the IOC in 1991, that Utah is an Olympic state will be be a rich harvest of Welch's nearly decade-long Olympics effort. But Welch says the greatest reward will be from having made a contribution to his community.
"I grew up in a family that was always involved," said the Ogden-born Welch. "We were always taught that when you are given a lot, you need to put something back."
Welch talks a great deal about "tomorrow" when he discusses just what it is he is "giving back" to the community. And he punctuates this discussion about the future with constant references to the Olympics as a golden opportunity.
"We can have a great future. But if we're unwilling to invest time, energy and resources for tomorrow, then we will miss out, and some other people will come forward and take that opportunity away from us," he said.
"If we become a scared, tired people, we'll only fulfill our worst nightmares about what the future will bring."
And what of Welch's future?
Utah's Olympic boss is pondering his role in the Olympics process, saying he is dedicated to bringing the Games to Utah, "but I don't feel compelled to be there (as Olympic boss) when the Games are on."
That would leave room for fulfilling political aspirations frequently associated with Welch, ambitions Welch now downplays.
"I don't see that today. One thing that the Olympics has shown me is the price that a lot of our elected officials have to pay. I may be too sensitive for what they go through," he said.
"But in the same sense, you hate never saying never."