Ted Wilson, a former three-term mayor of Salt Lake City and former longtime director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, died Thursday due to congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.

His family issued a statement to the media early Thursday morning: “Ted Wilson passed today surrounded by family. As the eternal optimist, he loved people and they loved him back. We are honored that his memory will live on in the legacy he built as Salt Lake City Mayor, through the countless people he has taught and mentored, his decades of humanitarian service, and his mountaineering accomplishments. Ted’s lifetime priorities were his family and public service. He built and nurtured many deep and meaningful friendships and would remind us all to ‘never sweat the small stuff.’”

Politics played a large role for Wilson, a Democrat who wore many hats in his lifetime.

He served as mayor from 1976 to 1985, then left to begin what would be an 18-year stint as director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, from which he retired in 2003. He also taught in the political science department during that time. In 1982, he challenged incumbent Orrin Hatch in a high-profile Senate race.

In 1988, Wilson ran for governor of Utah, losing by fewer than 12,000 votes to Republican Norm Bangerter. He also co-wrote a political point-counterpoint column for the Deseret News for a while. He passed that love of politics to at least one of his children, Jenny Wilson, who is now the mayor of Salt Lake County. He served as a fellow at the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University in 1991.

Wilson’s tenure as mayor included the flooding of 1983, when a massive sandbagging operation was used to divert City Creek, turning State Street into a temporary river. He was also mayor during reconstruction of the Salt Lake airport and a significant change to the structure of the Salt Lake City Council.

In June of 1979, Wilson was one of 13 mayors selected for an official visit to the People’s Republic of China.

Prior to his own political forays, Wilson taught economics at Skyline High School, was a mountaineering park ranger at Grand Teton National Park and established climbing schools. He also had extensive hiking experience in the Alps, Alaska and the Andes. Wilson served as chief of staff to Congressman Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and directed the Department of Social Services in Salt Lake County.

Tributes poured in to news outlets throughout the day Thursday and friends, colleagues and others remembered Wilson on X.

The Utah Democratic Party released a statement acknowledging his accomplishments and added that Wilson, as mayor, “is responsible for cementing Salt Lake City’s place as a thriving home for Utah families and businesses. His commitment to education as a member of the University of Utah’s faculty lives on in his students and his humanitarian work will impact the lives of people around the world for years to come.” The statement noted that in his run for governor and senator, “Mayor Wilson championed Democratic values and strengthened the Democratic coalition.”

Said the party chair, Diane Lewis, “Mayor Wilson’s legacy lives on in the work of Democrats across Utah. Our party would not be where it is today without him.”

In a written statement, the Hinckley Institute of Politics called Wilson a “transformative leader who dedicated his life to serving his community, state and country.” The institute noted that Wilson’s tenure there came “during a period of critical growth and left a legacy that will continue to impact generations of students. A gifted educator, he taught and inspired thousands of students in courses on American government, presidential politics and the U.S. Constitution. Ted embodied the Hinckley Institute’s mission of encouraging students to be civically engaged, and practiced what he preached by running for office and becoming an effective, service-oriented leader. Under Ted’s leadership, the Hinckley Institute expanded in every way. Internship opportunities in Utah and Washington, D.C., increased significantly and Ted laid the groundwork for the Hinckley global internship program by leading dozens of students on civic learning expeditions to India.”

The statement added that Wilson prioritized students and their development, helping them secure academic scholarships and founding the student-run Hinckley Journal of Politics.

“Ted Wilson was an inspiration to generations of students and Utahns. He exemplified the importance of civic engagement and proved you can have tough debates with those on the other side of the aisle and do it in a way that garners respect instead of contempt,” Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also issued a statement, calling Wilson “my mentor, my cherished friend and someone I could always count on. To this city he was a giant and a champion. His legacy is a permanent thread in our city’s story.” While honoring him as a leader, listener and “driver of progress,” Mendenhall wrote that his most treasured role was that of teacher. “Ted’s legacy will live on in the leaders he mentored, myself proudly and gratefully among them.”

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Jade Velazquez also issued a statement that read, in part, “As we mourn the loss of a visionary leader, let us also celebrate Ted Wilson’s enduring legacy and the profound impact he has left on our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mayor Wilson’s family, friends, and loved ones during this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing to all who had the privilege of knowing him, and may we honor his legacy by continuing the work he so passionately pursued.”

X poster Nancy Laursen wrote of the impact WIlson had on students and teachers. “He climbed Everest and presented to students at our middle school. He inspired a lot of kids and teachers (at least me). That was 25 years ago. I never forgot.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox posted on X, “Ted always put people above politics.” Cox ordered the U.S. and Utah flags to be flown at half-staff on all state facilities in recognition of Wilson’s passing.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, who is also running for governor, said in a statement: “Sad to hear this morning of Ted Wilson’s death. This is an immense loss to our state, and I share my condolences with his family, friends, and anyone else who had the blessing to cross paths with him. Mayor Wilson’s lifelong dedication to our communities had real and lasting impact, and he leaves behind a monumental legacy of public service.”

Speaking for the Utah House Democrats, Angela Romero said Wilson as mayor “not only led with vision and integrity, but also transformed our city into a hub of progress, inclusivity and civic engagement. His leadership laid the foundation for a more vibrant and connected community.”

In a release to the media, Salt Lake County noted a number of Wilson’s accomplishments. He served as executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, was an environmental advisor to Gov. Gary Herbert from 2009-2011, and was on the board of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, among others.

But politics was just one passion for Wilson, father of five children with first wife Kathryn Carling and stepfather of two from his marriage to Holly Mullen. He had 13 grandchildren.

Wilson was born May 18, 1939, in Salt Lake City. He attended South High School, and received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Utah. He later earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Washington. Among his many awards and honors were an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Westminster College, a fellowship from the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University and numerous education awards including Merit of Honor from the University of Utah Emeritus Alumni Board.