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A name to match the new airport’s grandeur — Jake Garn

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jake Garn opens a gift from current Mayor Jackie Biskupski after Thursday was proclaimed Mayor Jake Garn Day during a ceremony at the Salt Lake City-County Building on Feb. 16, 2017.
Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News

The first phase of the world’s finest, most modern and most innovative airport is set to open Sept. 15. The new Salt Lake City International Airport will be a major benefit for all Utahns who travel, and for millions of people across the country and the world who will stop for connecting flights. It will also be a multibillion-dollar economic asset for Utah, producing jobs, commerce and more incentive for businesses to expand or locate in the state.

We’re not flying as much as we did before the COVID-19 pandemic, but travel will eventually return to and surpass previous levels. The airport project confirms Utah’s status as the crossroads of the West, and our aspiration to become the crossroads of the world. The entire $4 billion project will be completed in 2024.

The new airport’s stunning design truly reflects the intersection of art and architecture. Travelers will recognize the patterns of nature in Utah’s amazing canyons, and will journey through the four seasons in the mid-concourse tunnel.

A new, iconic airport needs a name to match its grandeur, its importance, and its remarkable functionality. A groundswell of support exists to name the airport after Sen. E.J “Jake” Garn. It would be a fitting and lasting tribute to a remarkable leader who truly deserves the recognition. The name would remind and inspire all who visit the airport of selfless public service, courage, a pioneering spirit, daring exploits, and a caring heart — all characteristics of Jake Garn.

The airport is owned and operated by Salt Lake City, but it is truly a statewide, regional and even national asset. This expansive significance reflects the life and service of Sen. Garn.

He was born in Richfield and grew up in Salt Lake City. He led his city as mayor, served his country as a military pilot and fought for Utahns and for commonsense public policy for 18 years in the U.S. Senate. He capped his adventurous life by escaping the bonds of earth as a space shuttle astronaut.

Naming the airport in his honor would be a bold statement about the importance of public service, of integrity and selflessness, and of courage and dedication.

As we celebrate the airport opening, we should also not forget the extraordinary contributions of Utah native Larry Lee, who saved Western Airlines from financial ruin, established Salt Lake City as a key Western hub, and then sold Western Airlines to Delta Airlines in 1986. Delta maintained and expanded the Salt Lake City hub, adding immensely to Utah’s economic vibrance and travel convenience. It would be a fitting tribute to Larry Lee to name the great hall of the new airport after him.

Garn’s life was dedicated to three great loves that developed on parallel tracks: First, his love of public service, reflected in his election to the old Salt Lake City Commission in 1967, his tenure as mayor, and beginning in 1975, and his remarkable three terms in the U.S. Senate.

Second, his lifelong love of flying, the military and all things related to aviation. This love came naturally, as his father, Jacob Edwin Garn, earned the first pilot’s license in Utah and was the first director of Utah’s Division of Aeronautics. The senior Garn helped bring Utah into the aviation age, establishing airports, airmail and widespread commercial air travel.

His son, Jake, received his pilot’s license when he was only 16 and was a military pilot for 24 years, flying Navy patrols in the South Pacific.

After active duty, Garn returned to Utah and joined the Utah Air National Guard. He flew weekend cargo missions out of Vietnam while serving as city commissioner and mayor and continued to fly while serving in the Senate. He retired as a brigadier general with more than 12,000 hours of pilot time. His aviation exploits extended to outer space when he was invited to fly as a payload specialist on a space shuttle Discovery flight in April, 1985. The seven-day mission returned to earth after orbiting the earth 109 times and traveling 2.5 million miles.

Garn’s third and greatest love was his family. He lost his first wife, Hazel, to a tragic automobile accident when he was serving in the Senate. He later married Kathleen Brewerton. Their “yours, mine and ours” family consisted of seven children. When his daughter, Susan, suffered progressive kidney failure, he donated a kidney to save his daughter’s life. He modestly said any father would do the same.

The name of Jake Garn, representing his remarkable life and service, would add to the majesty and immense value of the new airport.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.

Correction: A previous version misstated Kathleen Garn’s maiden name. It is Brewerton, not Hazelton.