BOUNTIFUL — Robert Rose was known as a kind, honest man, a “gentle giant” who loved to laugh and faithfully served his church on six missions, including five over the final two decades of his life.

Rose, who would have turned 80 later this year, died two weeks ago, the first victim of the coronavirus in Utah. He left behind his wife of 55 years, Connie, and their family of 10 children, 37 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Humble and unpretentious, Robert Rose was the kind of person who shunned attention and would have been embarrassed to have an article in the newspaper about him.

His family doesn’t want him to be remembered as the first Utahn to die from the coronavirus. But as more and more people succumb as a result of the pandemic, they are comfortable sharing the story of the wonderful man they lost and, through their experience, comfort those who might be scared of the COVID-19 virus that led to his death.

A sign hangs on a chain-link fence paying tribute to Robert Rose. | Family photo

Well over 1.5 million people around the world have tested positive for the virus with more than 92,000 lives lost. In Utah on Friday, there were 2,102 cases with 17 deaths.

The Rose family is sensitive to families who have become sick or lost loved ones to COVID-19 and realize their own experience might be different than others. 

“I just think we all need to do what we’re supposed to do, but not to be afraid,” said Connie Rose, who has recovered from the virus.

“We’re sensitive, obviously, knowing the sting of death is less with someone who’s lived a full life than a 16-year-old,” added Kate Lee, one of the Roses’ five daughters who also tested positive for coronavirus. “Certainly we’re not doctors, but perhaps we can lend some hope to others for the little bit of what we’ve gone through.”

Connie Rose first got sick Tuesday, March 17, and said she immediately became concerned about her husband, who had issues with his lungs after a couple of bouts with pneumonia a decade earlier.

Members of the Rose family gather for a graveside service in Bountiful for Robert Rose. | Family photo

He came down with symptoms two days later on a Thursday and went to the hospital the next day before passing away that Sunday morning. 

“He wasn’t in a lot of pain, just a bit delirious,” Connie Rose said. “His health was going downhill, so in a way it was a blessing.”

The couple had gone on a river trip down the Mississippi River for 10 days, returning home March 9. Although the Roses could have picked up the virus on the trip, Connie Rose said she checked and found that none of the other 24 people on the excursion had come down with the coronavirus. They may have caught something on their return flight or perhaps after they got home. No one knows for sure.

Connie Rose said her husband had been well throughout the riverboat trip from Memphis to New Orleans and she’ll always remember their last days together with fondness.

“We loved it,” she said. “I’m grateful to have that memory with Bob.”

After growing up in Southern California, Robert Rose attended BYU, where he met his wife. He practiced law and they settled in Bountiful, raising their 10 children. 

He enjoyed sports, whether watching or participating. He ran 10 marathons and was fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, although he wasn’t able to make it back for the race. He also enjoyed skiing and playing golf with his friends.

After retiring from his law practice, Rose dedicated his life to serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a young man, he had served in the Northern States Mission, mostly in the Chicago area from 1960-62.

His first mission with his wife was in 2004 in Asia as part of the BYU Teachers program. That was followed by missions to the Marshall Islands and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From 2012 to 2014, they served together in the South Africa Area office and for the past five years served as inner-city missionaries at the Pioneer Stake 32nd Ward in Salt Lake City, where they touched many lives. 

Alex Bailey, who with his wife, Karla, served with the Roses for the past five years in the Poplar Grove area in Salt Lake City, said Bob Rose told him the inner-city mission was his most rewarding missionary experience. 

“I looked up to him because of his character and how he exemplified so many traits I admire in people,” Alex Bailey said. “He would listen and I’d marvel at his ability to look at somebody no matter what had happened and not judge them and love them through the process. We were privileged to work with him and his wife.”

Of her husband, Connie Rose said, “He was quiet power. The kids called him the gentle giant (he stood 6 feet 4 inches). He loved missionary work. When we FaceTimed (the day before he died), he just prayed for the missionaries.”

Back in the 1980s, some financial problems forced Robert Rose to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Even though he wasn’t legally bound, he made a list of the people he owed money and worked on paying them back little by little as much as he could for the rest of his life. 

“That was a perfect example of who my dad was,” said Lee.

As sad as she was to lose her father, Lee said she learned a lot about the coronavirus and hopes the family’s experience can help others. 

“There’s so much fear out there right now, but the silver lining to all this is it has eliminated a lot of our fears,” Lee said. “We’ve seen the facts. Because our family is so big, several of us have gotten sick out of 25 who were in close contact with him. If we wash our hands, don’t touch our faces and do those things they’re asking us to do, such as social distancing, it really is working. Even though various members of the family have the virus or have had it, we feel peace and continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC.”

Like many others around the world who aren’t able to have a normal funeral service because of the coronavirus, the Rose family held a graveside service in Bountiful, complete with masks for everyone.

“A lot of people say this is so sad and heartbreaking but we want people to know, it’s OK,” Lee said. “It’s a new normal and the peace we felt from that gravesite was no different than a funeral and it was a very spiritual, intimate gathering. There’s still peace in that, even though it’s different.”

In his final hours when he was struggling to speak, his last words to his daughter, Amy McReynolds, summed up the essence of Bob Rose. 

“We just need to be kind to each other,” he told her.