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Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish becomes first woman to win Giant in Our City Award

Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish talks with Chamber President Lane Beattie as he shows her the award before program.
Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish talks with Chamber President Lane Beattie as he shows her the award before program.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish became the first individual female recipient of the Giant in Our City Award, presented Thursday by the Salt Lake Chamber.

"When they first announced that, I felt deeply that it recognized all women," Bishop Tanner Irish said. "I still feel that way, and that's why it's important to me. It's not about me. It's about the larger community, not only of women, but all people."

Bishop Tanner Irish is the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah and the first woman to lead a major denomination in Utah. She joined the likes of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, Larry H. Miller, Jon Huntsman Sr., Mitt Romney, Ellis Ivory and Roger Boyer when she became the 30th recipient of the award during a reception at the Grand America Hotel Thursday night. According to the Salt Lake Chamber, Bishop Tanner Irish's greatest passion is championing people, which makes her a perfect recipient of the award.

When speaking about her life, she said it's impossible to choose her favorite accomplishment, but she can choose three of her favorites.

"I have to say first, my family," she said. "You know, somebody told me to write a short bio, a medium-sized bio and a big bio. In the short bio, you need to say one sentence about three things that are important to you. I said my family, and I said my work. My vocation, especially. The third thing was becoming an honorary fellow of Linacre College (at the University of Oxford). I didn't know how much that meant to me until I said it."

Bishop Tanner Irish is the daughter of Obert C. Tanner and grew up in Salt Lake City as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She graduated from Olympus High School, attempted to make it big as a dancer, enrolled at Stanford University, earned a master of letters degree in moral philosophy from the University of Oxford, married Lee Irish, became a mother of four and divorced him.

When she was 35, she began attending the Episcopal Church in Michigan, and by 1979, she was enrolled in an Episcopal seminary. After serving the church as a deacon and then a priest in Washington, D.C. Virginia and Michigan, she became the bishop of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City in 1995.

In 1999, Bishop Tanner Irish took time off and checked into rehab after announcing that she was an alcoholic. She still attends meetings to fight her disease and is willing to talk to other alcoholics about her experiences — another part of her role as a spiritual leader who counsels, advises and heals, according to the chamber.

While in Utah, Tanner Irish married the Rev. Fred Quinn, who she had met while working at the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Quinn is a retired foreign service officer, a published author and an instructor at the University of Utah. He also serves as a substitute priest for the church.

As bishop, Bishop Tanner Irish oversees 22 parishes and more than 6,000 members across Utah and northern Arizona. Her tenure as one of the 12 female bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion will end Sept. 11, 2010, when she retires.

She has served as chairwoman of the board of directors for the O.C. Tanner Co. since 1993. She also won the Governor's Award for the Humanities, which honors recipients for a lifetime of service, in September 2008.

The Giant in Our City award was first created in 1969 by the chamber's Board of Governors to "honor lives of exceptional and distinguished public service and extraordinary professional achievement," according to the chamber. It is the group's most prestigious award.

e-mail: apierce@desnews.com