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Utah AD Mark Harlan, Kyle Whittingham, others offer condolences following the passing of Bob Garff

Bob Garff speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ken Garff Performance Zone before the start of an NCAA football game between the Utah Utes and Colorado Buffaloes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
Bob Garff speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ken Garff Performance Zone before the start of a Pac-12 football game between the Utah Utes and Colorado Buffaloes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — On Sunday, Robert Garff, chairman of the Ken Garff Automative Group, died due to complications resulting from COVID-19. He was 77.

Garff, a graduate of the University of Utah in 1966, was a generous donor to the U. and the entire state of Utah. He and his family donated $17.5 million to the Utah athletic program last year to fund a Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion for the south end zone — dubbed the Ken Garff Performance Zone.

Many influential figures from the university mourned Garff’s passing, including Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah president Ruth Watkins and athletic director Mark Harlan.

“We are extremely saddened to hear of Bob Garff’s passing. He had a profound impact on the University of Utah and cared deeply for our student-athletes. He will be greatly missed. Sending all my love to Kathi and the entire Garff family at this time,” Whittingham wrote.

“Bob Garff was a man who cherished his family and was a role model for this community, Harlan said. “What a blessing it has been to get to know him, Kathi and their family over the last few years. I will remember most his wisdom and his sense of humor, both of which were present in every conversation we had. His love for the University of Utah was profound and demonstrated through his volunteerism and philanthropy. Bob LOVED the student-athletes and their mission with great passion. We always talked about their academic achievements before their competitive success. My sincere condolences go to the Garff family on behalf of more than 550 student-athletes, coaches and staff of Utah Athletics. He will be missed by so many, but his impact will never be forgotten,” Harlan wrote.

Watkins also shared her condolences.

“We are devastated to learn Bob Garff has passed away. He was a compassionate, visionary and generous husband, father, friend, businessman and community giant. Bob loved the U and was passionate about supporting students. Our hearts are with his wife Kathi and the Garff family,” Watkins shared.

Garff was instrumental in bringing the 2002 Olympic Winter Games to Utah as chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic committee. He appointed Mitt Romney as the Games’ CEO. Romney paid tribute to Garff on Sunday.

“With profound sadness, I have learned that my friend Bob Garff has passed away from COVID-19. It breaks my heart. Bob’s contributions to our state, to our economy, and to our church will be heralded by many. But for me, it was his sound and principled leadership as the Chairman of the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 that is most compelling. The scandal that surrounded the Games could have overwhelmed our collective commitment, but Bob’s genuine goodness, clear-eyed optimism, and can-do management experience helped to re-ignite our confidence and community spirit. The Games were arguably the best ever, in large measure thanks to the character and care of Bob Garff. Ann and I will miss our friend very, very much. We send our sympathy and love to dear Kathi,” Romney tweeted.

BYU also released a statement, saying, “The BYU Athletics family mourns the loss of our friend Bob Garff. His support and generosity has blessed our lives for many years. We will miss his goodness. We will pray for his family, especially Kathi. May the Lord bless and comfort you.”