Hundreds visit Utah Capitol to honor Orrin Hatch — senator, father, friend
The retired senator is only the fifth person — and the first federally elected official — to receive the honor of laying in state in the Utah State Capitol
Hundreds of Utahns cycled through the Utah State Capitol rotunda on Wednesday to pay their respects to the late Sen. Orrin Hatch as he lay in state. While respectful, the mood was also light and commemorative, with relatives, constituents and colleagues of the senator reuniting to share stories and memories of his personal life and time in office.
Hatch’s oldest son, Brent Hatch, was quick to greet old friends and colleagues, standing for hours on end to shake hands with those gathered around the balustrade. When a friend ribbed him about his bowtie, he laughed, saying he was evoking Paul Simon, the late Illinois senator and lieutenant governor — famous for his trademark bowtie and glasses.
The viewing often felt like a reception or family reunion, with visitors lingering to catch up long after they paid their respects. Current and former state lawmakers and general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made up some of the most notable faces in the crowd.
Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator and the longest-serving senator from Utah, is only the fifth person to have the honor of lying in state at Utah’s Capitol, and the first federally elected Utah official. After 42 years of serving in the Senate before stepping down in 2019, he died on April 23 at the age of 88.
Brent Hatch told the Deseret News the family hadn’t expected the honor, but said they were “touched with gratitude” when Gov. Spencer Cox extended the offer.
“As a family, we wanted this opportunity for everybody who wants to come say their goodbyes,” he said. “We thought about having a small family gathering, and then we realized that would be really selfish because the state of Utah was his family almost as much as we were. And we wanted to make sure anybody who wanted to be here could be.”
When asked why the late senator lay in state in Utah, rather than the U.S. Capitol, Brent Hatch said his father was always focused on helping the people of his state.
“Everybody thinks the world revolves around Washington, D.C.,” Brent Hatch said. “And, yeah, maybe it does. But for my father, the most important thing was just staying. ... He didn’t really like going to all the little events. ... What he liked was working hard for the people of Utah and it was very clear to us as a family. ... Ultimately what mattered was family and Utah, not D.C.”
Brent Hatch said he hopes Utahns will remember his father for how hard he worked on their behalf, saying he saw firsthand the commitment and dedication the senator brought with him to the Senate.
“This wasn’t a fun job for him. ... He gave 42 years to the United States and for the people in Utah, but he really worked about 84 years for the state of Utah when he was in the Senate, and I’m proud of him for that,” Brent Hatch said.
Since his father’s passing, Brent Hatch said he has received thousands of texts and emails — including from many people he doesn’t know — offering condolences and sharing personal experiences with the late senator. Many of them, he said, were more focused on Hatch as a person than on his work as a politician.
“At least half the stories are things he did that were not in the job of a senator and they were more of the job of a bishop,” he said.
“I think (I miss him) the same as anybody would miss their father — just the presence,” Brent Hatch said. “Because we now have to somehow get through life without our personal leading beacon. ... Now we’ve got to find our own way ... but I’m now doing it and hopefully, the leaders we have in this state will be able to power forward (so) we can continue to be one of the greatest states in the nation.”
In the afternoon, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Senate President Stuart Adams and State treasurer Marlo Oaks exchanged brief condolences with the Hatch family after placing a ceremonial wreath next to the late senator’s casket.
Utahns remember longest-serving statesman
Through four decades in politics, Hatch had an outsized impact on policy and legislation — especially when it came to religious freedom and expression. Hatch was particularly proud of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an issue he said has grown more complicated in the years since.
“If I was to pick one bill that I love more than anything else, it’s the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We could not pass that act today,” he said in one of his final interviews with the Deseret News in 2018. “That has protected religious freedom like never before. It’s something you would think you wouldn’t have to protect, but believe me you have to protect it.”
Hatch has been remembered as one who was willing to set politics aside in the name of friendship, and his close relationship with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy was famous.
Remembrances shared by Utah leaders since his passing have almost unfailingly mentioned Hatch’s character, with many sharing personal anecdotes of kindness and respect.
“This breaks my heart,” said Gov. Spencer Cox in a tweet. “Abby and I are so grateful for the opportunities we had to spend time with this incredible public servant. He was always so kind and generous with his time and wisdom.”
Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Mike Lee both honored the late statesman on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
“His unwavering dedication to our state and country during four decades of public service will be remembered for generations to come,” Romney 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.”
“Orrin Hatch was a pioneer, through and through,” Lee said. “Not just the descendant of pioneers, but a pioneer in his own right.”
Hatch’s legislative accomplishments extend to helping create the Americans with Disabilities Act, establishing the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, lauded Hatch’s efforts in children’s health care, calling the Children’s Health Insurance Program “an important program that provides more families greater access to low-cost coverage for their children. He helped create this program by rising above ideological division and working with colleagues across the political spectrum.”
“Orrin Hatch was far more than Utah’s longest-serving senator,” Harrison said. “Longevity of public service is simply a testament to how beloved he was by the people in our state — and a credit to how much he accomplished for those he served.”
Here’s the schedule of events to memorialize Hatch this week:
- A funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion at 1780 S. Campus Drive in Salt Lake City.
- He will be buried with military rites at the Newton Cemetery in Cache County later in the day.
All events are open to the public.