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Civil rights advocate, Deseret News columnist John Florez dies at age 84

Former Utah Industrial Commissioner and longtime Deseret News columnist John Florez died Thursday at the age of 84.
Former Utah Industrial Commissioner and longtime Deseret News columnist John Florez died Thursday at the age of 84.
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah industrial commissioner and longtime Deseret News columnist John Florez died Thursday at the age of 84.

Florez wrote a weekly column for the Deseret News for the past 13 years, penning his final thoughts for the newspaper in mid-September. He primarily tackled issues pertaining to Utah's schools.

"John believed in the dignity of every individual, and his wise, compassionate spirit exemplified that in his life's work," states on obituary on Florez's behalf posted online. "He relied on his strong Catholic faith and always remembered his roots in his commitment to helping those in need."

Deseret News reporter Marjorie Cortez remembers Florez as a kind and hospitable friend. She still remembers going to Florez's home with her family for dinner get-togethers.

"He'd have us up to his house, and you'd walk in the door and it'd smell like heaven," Cortez said.

Florez grew up in humble circumstances, which informed his advocacy work throughout his life, Cortez added.

"He was a really strong advocate for Latino children especially," she said.

Florez helped found several civil rights organizations in Utah, according to his obituary. He served on the National Urban Coalition in Washington, D.C., taught for the College of Social Work at the University of Utah, and served on the Salt Lake City School Board.

In his role on the Utah Industrial Commission, Florez "worked to pass laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination, (as well as) regulations prohibiting sexual harassment (and) protecting individuals with disabilities," his obituary says.

Florez earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Utah. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Salt Lake Community College.

State Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Angela Romero, both D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, as well as state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, expressed their appreciation for Florez's work in a statement Friday.

“He was a bold but kind man. We sometimes didn't see eye to eye politically, but no one could ever question his commitment to our Latino community and all minorities. He was direct and wouldn't suffer fools gladly, even when the fools were us," their statement said. "He has always shown those of us who have been afforded political office or appointment that there is a responsibility to speak truth to power within our positions. He never forgot his humble beginnings or who he was."

Services honoring Florez are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Emigration Stake Center, 589 E. 18th Ave.

Florez is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Diane, and his children: Rebecca, Gregory, Elisa and Christina.