The remarkable career and stellar accomplishments of Sen. Orrin Hatch will be widely and appropriately celebrated as he leaves office after 42 productive years in the U.S. Senate — the longest period of service in history for any Republican senator.
But beyond a Senate career so notable that it may never be duplicated — beyond the 800 bills signed into law, beyond his public honors, his re-election campaigns, his myriad speeches, his superlative constituent service, his impact on the federal judiciary, his service as president pro tempore and his 14 honorary university degrees — is the personal side of Orrin Hatch, the private man behind the revered public figure.
This private side of Orrin Hatch is best reflected and understood in his personal relationships with other people.
Perhaps the first relationship that dramatically shaped his life was the bond he had as a young, impressionable boy with his big brother, Jess. Young Orrin justifiably idolized his warrior brother, who fought in the skies over Europe in World War II as an Army Air Force nose turret gunner.
When Orrin was only 10, in 1945, the family received a dreaded telegram that Jess had been shot down during a bombing raid and was missing in action. His big brother’s death, not confirmed until two years later, impacted Orrin immensely. “From that day forward,” said Orrin’s daughter, Alysa, “my father resolved to live two lives — one for himself and one for his brother.” This commitment to his brother created a fierce tenacity that drove Orrin to succeed in sports, music, politics and everything he tried.
Clearly, the most important relationship in Orrin’s life is with his wife, Elaine — the love of his life, his anchor, his biggest influence and supporter, his pillar of stability amid the stress and trauma of a very public life. Orrin was a Brigham Young University student when he met, wooed and married Elaine Hansen. His remarkable civic achievements are only topped by his proudest accomplishment of all — the success of his family. Married for 60 years, Orrin and Elaine are the parents of six children, grandparents of 23, and great-grandparents of 26. Orrin has said, no doubt accurately, that Elaine deserves as much credit for his career and accomplishments as he does.
Two other key relationships illustrate the character and personal side of Orrin Hatch. The first was his friendship with his ideological opposite, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, another icon of the U.S. Senate. While disagreeing on many political issues, and debating forcefully, Hatch and Kennedy developed a genuine friendship and partnered in passing some of the most important bipartisan legislation in the last several decades. In 1997, Orrin composed a love song for Kennedy and his wife, Vicki. Orrin was so close to Kennedy that he could affectionately lecture him about his lifestyle, and the close friendship lasted until Kennedy’s death in 2009.
A final relationship was also highly improbable — a close relationship between the senator and “The Champ,” Muhammed Ali. Ali’s wife said it best: “Theirs was one of those friendships that makes people on the outside scratch their heads in wonder. My husband, Muhammad Ali — a pugnacious, iconoclastic, rebellious African-American Muslim, and a world-striding athlete. Sen. Hatch — the tactful, prudent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a conservative icon. From the outside, their friendship made little sense. But on the inside — between these two men — the friendship made perfect sense.”
Ali came Utah to campaign for Orrin, and they did charity work together. “They discussed and shared their deep religious convictions,” said Ali’s wife. “They respected each other for their sincere faith in God.” Orrin was invited to speak at Ali’s funeral when he died in 2016.
It has also been my pleasure to count Orrin Hatch as a true friend. While it is now time to say “thank you” to Orrin, it’s not time to say farewell. That’s because the citizens of Utah will see much more of Orrin, and continue to be blessed and influenced by him, as he starts a new chapter in his life directing the affairs of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation and the Hatch Center.
These institutions, affiliated with the University of Utah, will honor the senator’s legacy and promote thoughtful political engagement and good public policy. The senator’s papers will be made available to the public, scholars, professors and students. His memoirs will be published. The next generation of leaders will be trained to engage in the civic life of their communities. Prominent guest speakers will be featured, with debates and panel discussions. Important position papers on critical issues will be developed, and many public events will be held.
Thank you, Sen. Hatch. And welcome home to Utah, where your remarkable service will continue.