Family, friends and colleagues celebrated the life of Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday, reflecting on his legacy of public service, dedication to family, love of people and devotion to God.
There were many laughs among the tears as speakers shared stories not just about his many years as a U.S. senator but as a husband, father and friend during the service at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City.
“He really was larger than life,” said his daughter Marcia Hatch Whetton.
Among the several hundred people gathered for the funeral were current and former U.S. and Utah political leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.
Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate and the longest-serving senator from Utah, died April 23 at age 88. He was first elected in 1976 and served 42 years in the Senate until retiring after his seventh term in 2019.
He received full military honors, including a rifle salute and playing of taps, outside of the institute building before a funeral procession made its way to Newton in Cache County, where Hatch will be buried in the hometown of his wife, Elaine. Gov. Spencer Cox presented Elaine Hatch with the flag that was draped her husband’s casket during the funeral.
Much of the 90-minute memorial service focused on Hatch as a person, not as a politician. Speakers related anecdotes about his kindness to strangers, sense of humor, hard work and frugality. They also talked about his deep faith in Jesus Christ and how devout he was to his religion.
“He really was a friend to so many,” Whetton said. “He often commented on how very much he loved this country, the state of Utah and all of the people in Utah, and he definitely felt it was an honor to serve.”
Whetton said her father’s greatest legacy was how much he loved his wife. He was the man he was in large part because of her, she said. Her father also kept his faith despite losing his eyesight in his later years, she said.
Hatch’s son Brent Hatch said his father lived two lives — his own and one for his older brother Jesse, who was killed in World War II. Orrin Hatch was so shocked at the news of his brother’s death that it caused a white streak in his hair that never went away, Brent Hatch said. It served as a constant reminder of his commitment to his brother.
“He lived an amazing life. He was not perfect, but he never gave up. He truly lived his life as living for two,” Brent Hatch said.
Faith in Jesus Christ was paramount to his father, Brent Hatch said. He kneeled to pray in a closet in his Senate office and read regularly from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. And he never passed up a chance to chat someone up about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
McConnell said Hatch engaged in bipartisan efforts to lift up the vulnerable, pointing to children’s health insurance, Americans with disabilities, generic drugs, HIV/AIDS and the suicide lifeline.
“Orrin took his legislation to the same place where our Savior took his ministry: to the margins, to the periphery, serving the ‘least of these,’” he said.
Hatch was famous for the prolific handwritten thank-you notes he sent to all kinds of people, including Utah Jazz players for a big win. He said the notes reflected his respect for the dignity of everyone.
“So much of Orrin’s character is captured in that habit,” McConnell said.
The notes also were indicative of Hatch’s legislation, McConnell said. “Every bill was an Orrin Hatch thank-you note to our nation,” he said.
Hatch never looked down on anyone, and more likely he would have split a hot dog with a guy and talked for hours, McConnell said.
Hatch’s affinity for Costco hot dogs because they’re cheap is well known. Whetton said her father’s favorite restaurant was Chuck-A-Rama, a Utah all-you-can-eat buffet. He even took high-profile people to eat there. And he always told his fellow diners to eat a lot so they would get their money’s worth, she said.
On one of his Costco visits, Hatch met a store manager whose pregnant wife couldn’t get a visa to come from Morocco to the United States, said longtime friend Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank. Hatch worked it out and she delivered her baby in a Davis County hospital. Hatch cuddled and cooed at the baby and told the woman how happy he was to have her in the country, Anderson said.
“The senator made lost causes happen. He brought smiles to the desperate. He gave hope to the weary.”
Former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith recalled taking Hatch to a clothier in London to buy a new suit to help recapture the title a magazine bestowed on him as the best-dressed member of Congress. When he learned it would cost 2,000 British pounds, he ended the transaction and said he would win back the title with the help of Mr. Mac, a Salt Lake City clothing store known for outfitting Latter-day Saint missionaries.
Smith said it wasn’t inevitable or predictable that Hatch would become one of the greatest legislators in the country. He had no government experience when he went to Washington and had an early reputation as a conservative ideologue. Every legislator is faced with a choice about what kind of legislator they will be, from a noisemaker to a deal-maker to a peacemaker, he said.
“To be sure, Orrin made his share of noise,” he said. “But Orrin had the humility and the wisdom to be a student of the Senate, too. That led him to listen and to learn.”
Hatch always worked to find a way through the political discord because he sought to comprehend and accommodate positions different from his own, Smith said.
“Orrin understood in his bones that the best way to ruin a good story is to hear the other side. In turn, the regard he gave others, he earned for himself,” he said.
Smith said Hatch never held a grudge or had an enemies list, and he didn’t seek revenge or try to get even.
Hatch had an “ecumenical heart,” he said. Though devoted to his faith, he respected others’ beliefs.
“Orrin’s love of God caused him to be active in loving his neighbors, all in keeping with first and second great commandments,” he said, adding he saw Hatch’s compassion personally in the form of letters, songs he composed and long walks after the death of one his children.
“Orrin wasn’t a perfect man, just an extraordinarily good one,” Smith said.
President Oaks said he first met Hatch 50 years ago. Both of their families came from pioneering roots and settled in what is now Vernal in southeastern Utah in 1879. It was known as Hatchtown back then, he said.
“What happened to Orrin Hatch after our first meeting 50 years ago is well known and already reviewed,” President Oaks said. “I add only our longtime friendship and frequent contacts and work on subjects of common and public interest. Now, born two years apart and tracing our ancestry through the same small Utah town, Orrin and I come together for what I like to refer to as Orrin G. Hatch’s graduation from mortality, with highest honors.”
Cox noted that there were 1 million residents in Utah when Hatch was elected and 3 million when he retired. That puts into perspective “the depth and breadth of his service,” Cox said.
“For many people across the nation, the thing they know about Utah is Sen. Hatch, their interactions with him. And I don’t think there’s anybody, if we had to pick someone, that I would rather have represent the state for that long of a time, in so many different ways,” the governor told reporters before the funeral.
The motorcade left the University of Utah at about 3 p.m., slowly winding through Salt Lake City, onto I-15, then east into the Cache Valley before pulling into the small town of Newton at about 5:45 p.m.
By then, residents from across the valley had set up along the roadway, lined with hundreds of American flags against the backdrop of the snowcapped Bear River Mountains.
The motorcade, which spanned over a mile, was led by dozens of Utah Highway Patrol troopers on motorcycle. Then came the hearse, and in a gray Honda a few cars behind sat Elaine Hatch, smiling as she waived to the crowd.
Many that came to Newton knew Elaine Hatch. A common sentiment Friday was that the service in Salt Lake City was to celebrate the politician and the man — but the crowd gathered in the Cache Valley was there to celebrate the family.
“They were just a great family,” said Clair Christiansen, the former mayor of Newton, as they waited for the motorcade.
“Behind every great man is an even greater woman. And that’s surely the case here. Elaine’s done a great job of taking care of the family and being there to support him. They’ve been a great team,” he said.
Residents recalled seeing the Hatches show up at church on a few Sundays. “He struck terror into a few bishops’ hearts when they saw him walk in and sit in the audience,” said Christiansen’s wife, Rosemary.
But for Hatch, spending time in the quiet, rural farming community was an escape.
“When he’d come, he’d be there in the community, go to lunch, come to church and just sit in the audience with the people,” he said. “He didn’t want to sit up front, or do anything special. He just wanted to be with his in-laws and his family.”
Sitting in his ’80s-era Nissan sedan, Jim Petersen pulled out his red “Orrin Hatch” baseball hat, admiring it before he put it on. “Orrin gave this to me a few years ago,” said Petersen, a former Republican delegate.
Originally from Clarkston, a few miles up the road from Newton, Petersen went to high school with Elaine Hatch. Through the years, Petersen and his wife would run into the Hatches at various GOP events. Every time, the senator would recognize them and strike up small talk, which came as a surprise.
“He wasn’t a politician, he was a statesman. I remember he was so excited to take a picture with Christine,” Petersen said, pointing to his wife sitting in the passenger seat. “He loved Utah. He loved the Cache Valley. He did a lot for us here.”
It’s there, in a small, unassuming cemetery about the size of a football field, where the motorcade stopped.
It’s a modest site for one of the country’s longest-serving senators, after lying in state at the Utah Capitol, being honored at the Church of Jesus Christ’s Institute of Religion, and celebrated by the most powerful politicians and faith leaders across the country.
“I think being buried in a local, country cemetery perfectly defines his roots, and how down to earth he was,” said Christine Petersen.
Most of the dignitaries now gone, a group of about 50 family and friends filed out of their cars. Children ran through the field to a chorus of birds and the occasional smell of manure wafting in from the dairy farm across the street.
The crowd went silent as a group of 10 carried the casket to the gravesite.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more impressive site driving up here with the good people of this county, lining the roads, saluting, holding their hands to their heart and paying their respects. ... It means everything to my mother,” said Brent Hatch, standing in front of a sprawling floral arrangement, the flag flying at half-staff in front of him.
Kimberly Hatch followed with a prayer, then the family sang. Jess Hatch, the youngest brother, offered a dedicatory prayer for the grave.
The crowd lingered as friends and family placed roses on the gravesite, or took pictures in front of the senator’s final resting place. By 7 p.m., most of the procession had left. But not Elaine Hatch, who stood over the site, her head bowed with her hand on the casket.