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VACATIONING GOVERNOR IS STILL GOVERNOR

At first glance, they were just "Mike and Jackie," an ordinary, casually dressed tourist couple waiting to catch the shuttle for an evening performance at the Hale Summer Theater.

But as the shuttle pulled away from the Road Creek Inn in tiny Loa, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper pulled in behind. Another rode on the bus, a converted Park City transit bus with expired registration.To Gov. Mike Leavitt, the presence of the security officers was a constant reminder that "this job requires that I am governor 24 hours a day no matter where I am." Even on vacation at the family ranch in rural Utah.

Now into his second week of "vacation," Leavitt has found precious little time for rest and relaxation. The trip to the Hale Theater was sandwiched between a meeting with the Governor's Commission on Women and Families and an awards ceremony in which the governor was honored as Wayne County's favorite son.

In fact, a surprising chunk of the first week of the vacation was spent meeting with business leaders, politicos and his staff. Vacation or not, there is a growth summit to be planned, speeches to be given and a federalism summit to organize.

One day, a pollster showed up and spent four hours talking about federalism. "Unless I leave the state, they (those demanding the governor's time and attention) know where to find me," he said. "It's not so much a vacation as a change of venue."

There are differences between the Salt Lake governor's office and the one in Loa. While working in the Capitol, the governor deals with dozens of issues daily, usually in short but intense sessions. At Loa, he deals with fewer issues, but he addresses them for much longer periods of time. "I am not carrying around a 3-by-5 card with 20 appointments on it," he said.

Through it all, the governor has somehow found time to golf with his brothers, go on long walks and take his children fishing. Five-year-old Weston caught three fish, "but he put them back because he wanted them to live," Leavitt beamed fondly, cherishing a moment certain to be a lifelong memory.

And Leavitt has spent a fair amount of time writing - "a luxury I never get the chance to do anywhere else."

If you have to work during your summer vacation, Leavitt says, there is no better place than at the family ranch in Loa. "It is one place in the world where I can go have some kind of memory at every turn. There is an attachment, a sense of home and neighborhood."

Like the old sheepherder camp on nearby Parker Mountain. At a dutch-oven cookout last Monday, Leavitt noticed that one aspen tree at the camp contained the carved initials of his grandfather, father and two brothers. Another tree had his great-grandfather's name etched into it.

"That tree has to be 100 years old," Leavitt marveled.

"These memories bring a feeling of being home that I found nowhere else except my home in Salt Lake City."

Growing up in southern Utah, Leavitt split his time between his home in Cedar City and his grandfather's farm in Loa. Both places instilled in him a sense of appreciation for small towns and small-town values.

"This is real life here, very unpretentious," he said. "People who have chosen to live in smaller towns are hard-working people who don't seem to be driven by appearances. They take care of themselves and their town, and they choose to live here for the simplicity of it."

It's a level of simplicity that is hard for city dwellers to comprehend. Loa is a town where the clerks at the only grocery store in town know everyone on a first-name basis. The Chevron station is still full-service, even if it is slow. And the Maytag store also doubles as a meat locker.

It is also a world away from the much-publicized meetings with President Clinton in the White House, the repeated testimony before congressional subcommittees, his duties as chairman of the National Republican Governors Association and the required hobnobbing with political and business leaders from around the country.

"I have come to appreciate the fact I grew up in this (rural) environment," Leavitt said. "The longer I live, the more grateful I am to have grown up in a healthy, wholesome atmosphere. It is a background that offers dimension and a realistic view of the world. It added up to what Mike Leavitt is today."