Sen. Mitt Romney honored the life and legacy of Orrin Hatch in a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, recalling the Utah senator who died Saturday as a man of vision and unparalleled legislative accomplishment.

“His unwavering dedication to our state and country during four decades of public service will be remembered for generations to come,” he said. “Few individuals have left such an indelible mark on the United States Senate. ... Like his good friend, Ted Kennedy, he was a lion of the Senate.”

Hatch retired in 2019, his 42 years in office making him the longest-serving Republican in the Senate in U.S. history and the longest serving from Utah. Only five Democrats served in the Senate longer than Hatch.

Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, dies at 88
Opinion: A tribute to Orrin Hatch, a fighter who got things done

Romney, who replaced Hatch in the Senate, said Hatch and Kennedy once attended a bill signing — celebrating the same bill — with President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan asked Hatch, “How is it that you and Ted Kennedy are celebrating the same piece of legislation?” Hatch looked at him and said, “Well, it’s very simple, Mr. President. It’s very clear that one thing is obvious: One of us didn’t read it.”

Though on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Hatch and Kennedy worked together on significant legislation.

Early in his political career, Romney ran as a Republican against Kennedy in an effort to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. Although Romney described Hatch as a “distant acquaintance,” the Utah Republican called to say he wouldn’t campaign for Romney.

“He called me and said, ‘Mitt, you know I’m a Republican, too. I’m responsible for helping get a lot of Republicans elected, but I’m not going to come campaign for you ... because Ted Kennedy is just that good of a friend.’ Orrin put friendship above politics,” Romney said.

Romney recalled when he was asked to run the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, Hatch made the success of the Games a top priority from the start. In the wake of 9/11, he knew he could not let people travel to Salt Lake City unless he believed every precaution had been taken to keep them safe. Without the help of the federal government, Romney said, there would be no Olympics.

“The morning after the attacks of 9/11, I happened to be in Washington, and I called Sen. Hatch on the phone. ... I asked if we could get together at some point to talk about how we could move forward and provide the security funding that might be necessary to protect our Games. Without hesitation, he said come over to the office right now,” Romney said.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch greets then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney on June 8, 2012, at the Salt Lake executive terminal. Romney later was elected to Hatch’s seat the longtime senator retired. Hatch died Saturday, April 23, 2022, at age 88, | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I give Orrin Hatch a great deal of credit for helping us be able to host the Games in Salt Lake City successfully, and to do so without a security incident.”

Romney also noted Hatch’s pivotal role in several landmark confirmations while serving as one of the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “His positive impact on the state of Utah and the nation’s federal judiciary cannot be overstated,” he said.

The final walk: Orrin Hatch was in it for the long run

Describing him as a man of tremendous faith, Romney said Hatch was a fierce advocate in protecting religious freedom during his time in office.

“He dedicated his life to a commitment to Jesus Christ and to the principles of Christianity. He did so in my own faith by accepting callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as both a missionary as a young man and later as a bishop of a congregation,” Romney said.

Hatch also was devoted to his wife of more than six decades, Elaine, with whom he raised six children, 23 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

“Orrin Hatch believed that the people you love and the friends you have are the real currency in life,” Romney said. “I believe that deeply.”

Romney continued: “I remember walking through the Capitol with Orrin Hatch and from time to time, someone would come up to him and want to ask him a question or ask for help on some issue of theirs. And instead of doing like most of us do — which is putting our head down and rushing on and pointing out that we have important things to get to — he would stop and bend his very tall physique down to listen to what the person had to say, and would listen attentively and say he would do what he could to help.”

“He always had time for the people he served, and he believed he served all the people of the United States of America,” Romney said.

Hatch, he said, enjoyed life and appreciated all that it had to offer. He did not take himself too seriously and had an incredible sense of humor and loved a good self-deprecating joke. He never failed to use good-natured humor to make a point or bring attention to a matter, Romney said.

While he was running for president, Romney said Hatch sent him a “whole page of jokes he wanted me to use.”

“I must admit, I looked at them one by one and I didn’t think they were that funny,” Romney said. “But I read them to the people on the bus and they listened to them one by one, and the more they listened the funnier they got. And by the time I was finished with the page, they were howling with laughter.”

Sen. Mike Lee remembers Orrin Hatch as a ‘pioneer, through and through’

Hatch was “really one of a kind,” Romney said, who had an extraordinary capacity for music, humor, legislation and friendships. If you catch Romney using words like “heck” or “dang,” it’s because Hatch told the senator to “lighten up a little bit and be a little more free with (your) language.”

“His affinity for buffets and bacon were not to be forgotten as well,” Romney said of Hatch. “In his words, we should choose ‘to live everyday like (it was) Bacon Lovers Day,’ and I hope we will savor life as he did.”

View Comments

“Ann and I send our deepest condolences to Elaine and to the entire Hatch family,” Romney said.

To Hatch, he said, “God be with you ‘till we meet again, Orrin. And I hope you’ll feel that I haven’t let you down taking your place in this great chamber.”

On Wednesday, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation announced that Hatch will lie in state in the Utah State Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, May 4, from 2 to 8 p.m. His funeral will be held on Friday, May 6, at 1 p.m., at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion at 1780 S. Campus Drive in Salt Lake City.

Both events will be open to the public.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.