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Garff family honored for a life of service, devotion and philanthropy: They are ‘giants’

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Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller presents Katharine Garff with the “Giant in our City” award.

Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller presents Katharine Garff with the Giant in our City award in Salt Lake City on Thursday June 24, 2021, given to her and her late husband, Robert Garff.

Salt Lake Chamber

Mitt Romney was busy in Washington, D.C., working with a bipartisan group of senators to strike a deal with President Joe Biden about the nation’s infrastructure. But during the week he made sure he completed the important task of having a key speech read into the congressional record:

“Mr. President, today I rise to pay tribute to the esteemed legacy of Katharine and Bob Garff, two mavericks whose towering achievements in business, politics, religion and education will continue to benefit Utahns for generations,” begins the tribute.

Katharine and her husband, the late Robert Garff, were honored together this week as the 42nd recipients of the Giant in Our City award by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, described by Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller as the most prestigious and noteworthy honor given by the Utah business community.

It marked one of the first large gatherings of business, political and religious leaders as pandemic conditions ease with rising vaccination rates. It allowed for a full ballroom at Grand America in downtown Salt Lake City where many past recipients of the award stood with the hundreds gathered to pay tribute to the Garffs, and Katharine was presented with the honor for herself and in behalf of her husband.

Robert Garff died March 29, 2020, of complications from COVID-19.

The couple’s journey together had a grand beginning, as he proposed to Katharine on the Golden Gate Bridge, married April 9, 1965, and embarked on a life filled with family, faith, work, philanthropy and service to all aspects of the community.

Katharine Garff and her son, John Garff.

Katharine Garff speaks during the Giant in our City awards ceremony in Salt Lake City on Thursday June 25, 2021, with her son John, left.

Salt Lake Chamber

Video tributes included messages of thanks from community leaders, speaking of the couple’s devotion that spanned a range of causes and service in their church and community, including a love of education.

“They founded the Keys to Success program and the Success in Education Foundation to empower and motivate Utah students from elementary through postsecondary education, helping them get the most out of their education,” stated a summary of accomplishments prepared for attendees of the Chamber banquet.

The Keys to Success program was highlighted throughout the evening, noting its help providing students not just with the tools for success, but with a vision for that success.

Robert and Katharine Garff.

Robert and Katharine Garff on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Bountiful.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

“My mother is a person of conviction,” said son John Garff, who stood by his mother’s side as they thanked the assembled for the honor. Katharine Garff noted that she and her husband often spoke publicly side by side, addressing church congregations or other groups, alternating comments as they offered their message. So Thursday son John stood in for his father, standing side by side, even wearing his father’s tuxedo (fits a little more loosely on son John than Bob, they joked).

“Thank you,” he and his mother said repeatedly, noting the “generous hearts” of those gathered and the abundance, depth and purpose of lives devoted to service.

“Thank you for your goodness,” she said, echoing a theme of the evening.

President M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered the invocation at the beginning of the meeting. Another apostle for the church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland participated in the video tribute. He summed up Katharine Garff this way:

“Kathi is an angel.”

Also honored Thursday were all members of Utah’s essential workers, who provided such valuable service to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Six were identified to receive the Lane Beattie Utah Community Builder Award, representing different work given during the pandemic.

Marvella Cuch, a bus operator with Utah Transit Authority in Orem; Louis Donovan, “a goal-driven store director “overseeing operations at the Harmons store in Roy, Utah; Jesse Du Toit, a registered respiratory therapist at Intermountain Medical Center; Keri Graybill, a teacher at Granite Park Junior High; Alexis Rose, a registered nurse for Intermountain Medical Center; and Tiffany Silver, a child care worker for 17 years were the honorees.