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Influential author Stephen R. Covey remembered as 'Papa' who put family first

OREM — Stephen R. Covey was a man who most of the world will remember as an influential speaker and best selling author.

But to his family, he was simply known as "Papa," a man who put his family and faith above all else.

Funeral services were held Saturday for Covey at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University. The 79-year-old author died July 16 due to complications from a bicycling accident in April.

Covey was once named one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans and he authored a number of books focused on leadership. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages. Covey also founded the Covey Leadership Center, which merged with Franklin Quest in 1997 to form FranklinCovey Co., a company focused on leadership, strategy and individual effectiveness.

But as his children recalled Saturday, Covey would often remind them that "family is more important than the company."

Covey's funeral on Saturday was open to the public, but was in many ways a family affair with his nine children, 52 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren present and most having roles in the proceedings. A large family portrait — including all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren — flanked one side of Covey's coffin, while a picture of Covey and his wife of nearly 56 years, Sandra, was placed on the other.

Covey's nine children took turns giving two memories each of their father as a special tribute to him while their mother sat front and center in the audience. Many recalled their favorite memories were the times they got to spend one-on-one with their dad.

"As good as he was in public … he was even better in private as a husband and father," said his son Stephen M.R. Covey.

"Dad was so good at making each of us feel special," added son Sean Covey.

Catherine Covey recalled the time when she was in junior high school and at her request, her father took her to see "Star Wars," even though he didn't like movies like that.

"He came because he knew how much it meant to me," she said.

The siblings remembered "Honda rides," or the times they would get one-on-one time with their father by taking ATV rides in the mountains with him.

"Dad's greatest joy was his family," said daughter Colleen Covey Brown.

After his children grew up and moved out of the house, he would write them long letters or send them audio tapes, reminding them that they were part of a "marvelous generational family" and he wanted to preserve that. A big priority for Covey was keeping his family together.

On Covey's final day, at the hospital in Idaho Falls where he was being cared for, his five daughters and four sons talked about how one of their prayers was answered when he opened his eyes and was alert for his final hour of life as each took turns personally saying goodbye. In one of the ceremony's most touching moments, Joshua Covey recalled how his last words to his father were telling him how he wanted to be just like him, full of initiative, character and love, and to live a life full of service and contribution.

Many said the reason for Stephen Covey's success was his unwavering faith in his LDS beliefs and how he "unashamedly" would bear his testimony to anyone, anytime, any place. Colleen Covey Brown remembered how her father would tell her that if she put the Savior as the center of her life, everything else would fall into place.

Covey influenced tens of millions of people and thousands of organizations, his family said. But he was both "surprised and embarrassed" at times by his professional accomplishments.

It wasn't just his own family that he made feel special, but it was seemingly anyone he came in contact with.

"He reached the many and the few," Stephen M.R. Covey said.

Not only was he a great talker, but family members said he was a great listener — and a person who was willing to apologize, repent and make restitution when possible.

His family also recalled the less serious side of their father, noting how he loved practical jokes and often times doing things he knew would embarrass them. Joshua Covey recalled how his dad would walk by rough looking people on the street while with his family and say, "How's it going girls?"

Stephen Covey also relished sleep whenever he could get it during his busy schedule. David Covey said his father only like to be awokened one minute before it was time for him to give a presentation. He said when that time came, he would whisper "Showtime!" in his dad's ear and his father would immediately sit up and be ready to go.

One time, on a crowded train in Ireland, his family recalled that getting rest meant lying down in the middle of the train aisle and taking a nap, with other passengers being forced to step over him to get by.

His family talked about some of the funnier incidents of their dad's life, like the time he was using a public restroom and someone slid a copy of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" under the stall door and asked him to sign it. Or the time he was driving back to Utah from Montana with his wife and after stopping to switch drivers in Idaho, he accidentally left her on the side of the road believing she had already crawled in the back of the car and gone to sleep. Covey didn't realize his mistake until he received a call from the Idaho Highway Patrol on his cell phone saying they had his wife with them.

Covey was a man who loved the outdoors, mountain bikes, chocolate malts and Chinese food. His family recalled some of his most used expressions were, "I want results not excuses" and when they would walk into a restaurant or before meals, "To the tables everyone and stuff yourselves."

One of Covey's greatest gifts, his family recalled, was his ability to "unleash a person's potential."

Covey had three sisters and a brother. He considered his brother John his best friend.

John Covey recalled asking his brother after he graduated from Harvard Business School what he wanted to do with his life.

"I want to release human potential," Stephen Covey told his brother.

"Millions have been changed for the better because of his passion" to bring out the potential in people, John Covey said. "He loved people. He believed in people, and always built on their strengths.

"What I will miss the most is his life, his soul," John Covey said somberly.

After his sons and daughters gave a tribute to Papa, more than three dozen grandchildren gave their own tribute by singing a medley of Primary songs.

Covey and his wife served as mission presidents in Ireland. Saturday, his former Irish missionaries, who formed a singing group called the Mormonaries, performed two of Covey's favorite songs, "Beautiful Savior" and "High on the Mountain Top."

Later, Boyd Craig, a friend and business associate, sang what was called Covey's all time favorite song, "To Dream the Impossible Dream."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a friend of Covey's, attended Saturday's funeral.

The interment was held at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park.

"We will all sorely miss our Papa," Colleen Covey Brown said.

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