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'Friend, mentor and example': Gail Miller 3rd woman to win Utah leadership award

SALT LAKE CITY — Gail Miller joined several of the state's elected and business leaders Tuesday evening, where she received a leadership award from the Utah chapter of a national nonprofit connecting students and businesses.

Of 40 recipients, the billionaire businesswoman is the third woman to be inducted into the Junior Achievement business hall of fame, an honor first given in 1991.

Friends and colleagues at the event in Salt Lake City cast the Utah Jazz owner as a gracious leader and praised her philanthropy, focus on family and business acumen. They also paid tribute to her late husband, Larry Miller, who received the same award in 1992.

"I had the opportunity when Larry died to decide whether I would continue the legacy we started, or whether I would just fold up my tent and sell the business and stay home and be a grandma and a wife and a mother," Miller told over 100 business, government, education leaders and others over dinner at the nonprofit's miniature city designed to help students learn business and other skills.

"I knew there was something special about business — something special about being able to provide jobs for people who needed jobs — and especially jobs where one of the parents could stay home and raise their children and make a difference in our society. I'm so grateful I made that choice and I'm grateful to my children for helping me carrying that on," Miller said at the Gateway Mall.

Rhoda Ramsey, a real estate agent, won the honor in 2003. Three years later, the award went to June Morris, who ran the low-fare airline Morris Air that eventually was bought by Southwest Airlines.

Miller also said in a video shown at the dinner that she wants to encourage girls and women "to overcome the fear of stepping in the spotlight. Because it's a scary thing to do, but it doesn't need to be. You are capable. You have the opportunity to develop your skills and do things that anyone can do."

The chairwoman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, which runs several sports and entertainment operations, said she credits free enterprise in large part for her's and her late-husband's success.

O.C. Tanner President and CEO Dave Petersen said the couple might have embodied the ability to work together seamlessly more than another iconic duo close to them: John Stockton and Karl Malone.

The honor Miller received is reserved for inspiring leaders who have remarkable vision and whose innovative work has made a "major positive difference" in Utah, according to the Utah chapter of the national Junior Achievement program.

Ron Jibson, who also has won the award, praised Miller as "a tremendous friend, mentor and example" who makes Utah a good place to live.

Miller "is going to show the way for girls, that they can have it all," added Christy Tribe, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Utah, in the video honoring Miller. "So they can be great mothers and great wives, and they can be strong business people, and philanthropic."

Tribe's Utah branch began as an after-school program in 1956 and now works with more than 86,000 students through its in-school programs, but it's at capacity, she said. A second Utah County branch is expected to open soon with a focus on high-tech.

Others previous inductees include the late Jon Huntsman Sr., who received a brief tribute at the event, and Gov. Gary Herbert.