‘A profoundly inspiring life’: Utahns mourn the death of Jon Huntsman Sr.

Stock image by St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Utah philanthropist Jon Huntsman. Sr. died Friday. He was 80 years old.

The Huntsman Cancer Foundation spoke of his death in a statement posted to its website: “We express our heartfelt and sincere condolences to the Jon M. Huntsman family on the loss of our founder, mentor, and friend, Jon M. Huntsman.

The statement did not mention the cause of death.

Born in 1937, Huntsman was a four-time cancer survivor who also lost his parents to the disease whose name has become synonymous with cancer research through the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which he founded in the 1990s.

Cancer is hideous and deplorable and must be conquered, and it will be, as any evil eventually is defeated,” Huntsman wrote in his 2014 autobiography. He said he would see to it that the institute continues its mission “if it takes my last dollar–and I expect that will be the case.”

Mary Beckerle, Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO and director, stated, “Jon M. Huntsman was a great man who led a profoundly inspiring life. Other than his family, his goal to eradicate cancer from the face of the earth was the greatest passion of his life.”

He was also renowned for his charitable giving through money given to advance medical research, as well as giving $53 million in aid to northern Armenia when a 6.8 earthquake hit the region in 1988, according to Fox 13 News. For this act he became to only American to receive the Armenian Medal of Honor.

Huntsman was described by Forbes as a self-made billionaire. He was involved in the chemical industry and had a net worth of $1.2 billion at the time of his death.

Huntsman and his family’s total charitable giving is estimated to be around $1.4 billion, according to the Associated Press.

In 1970, Huntsman founded the Huntsman Container Corp., which focused on food packaging and pioneered the clamshell container used for McDonald’s Big Mac hamburger. He formed Huntsman Chemical Corp. in 1982 and more than a decade later, consolidated his companies as Huntsman Corp., producing materials used in a wide range of products, from textiles and paints to plastics and aviation components.

In all, Forbes reports, Huntsman purchased 34 companies, including Texaco’s petrochemicals operation for $1.06 billion in 1994.

After amassing his fortune, Huntsman gave $10 million the University of Utah in 1992 to establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a research center dedicated to finding a cure through human genetics.

For the past 10 years, Huntsman has suffered from polymyalgia rheumatica, a disorder that can cause severe shoulder and hip-joint pain. He told Fox 13 in an interview last year that he’d favor trying medical marijuana as a way to ease the pain of the condition rather than opioids.

Huntsman was the father of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who currently serves as the American ambassador to Russia.

Huntsman is survived by his wife and eight children. One daughter, Kathleen Ann Huntsman, died in 2010 at age 44 after struggling for years with an eating disorder.

State leaders and others issued statements after hearing of Huntsman’s death:

From the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

We share today in the grief of the Huntsman family. We honor Jon as a cherished husband, father and friend, esteemed as a leader for his exceptional capacity, commitment, philanthropy and service throughout the world. We express our love to Karen, to their children and family. Jon’s legacy of faithful leadership, generosity and goodness stands as a beacon for the entire Huntsman family and many others throughout the world.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah

Jon Huntsman Sr. was a committed public servant, a visionary businessman, and perhaps the greatest philanthropist our state has ever known. He was also a trusted confidante and a dear friend. Utah has lost a lion today. Elaine and I send all our love to the Huntsman family at this difficult time.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

Jeanette and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our friend Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. Jon was a successful businessman and a tremendous philanthropist.

Jon was not only a champion of business and philanthropy, but also a tremendous champion of our state. His loyalty to Utah was remarkable.

He loved his family and was fiercely loyal to them. You would be hard-pressed to find someone with a more closely knit family than the Huntsmans. In this regard, Jon was an especially good example to all of us.

A visionary man with a strong personality, Jon was not afraid to wade into the issues of the day. That drive was personified in his battle against cancer. Not only did he fight his own personal battle, but through the establishment of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, he gave his vast resources to help others wage a battle against cancer as well.

We have lost a giant in our state history. His influence is felt far beyond the borders of Utah. He is one of the greatest Utahns ever to live.

Our hearts are with his wife Karen, and the entire Huntsman family.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah

Words fail to describe the impact of Jon Huntsman Sr. Though his legacy of service, charitable causes and commitment to cancer research will live on his loss is heart breaking. Something I love about him the most is how generous he’s been and how philanthropic even before he came into his wealth.

Sue and I send our love and prayers to the Huntsman family during this difficult time. Utah and this country are a better place because of Jon.

Mitt Romney

With Jon Huntsman’s passing, we lose a Lion of Utah. Jon raised an extraordinary family, built one of America’s most prominent corporations, and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to heal the sick, provide relief to the injured, and bring hope to future generations. From providing care and employment to people in earthquake-ravaged Armenia to building libraries of learning here at home, Jon was relentlessly devoted to helping others.

Jon Huntsman’s greatest legacy will be as a healer of men. In founding and personally guiding the Huntsman Cancer Center, he opened the path to cures that have extended life for thousands and may someday defeat cancer for millions.

Jon and I have been friends for decades; our families have been friends for generations. He generously gave to the Salt Lake Olympics and provided me with essential counsel. He was the first to volunteer financial support for my campaign for president of the United States. Ann and I will profoundly miss our good friend’s broad smile, his hearty handshake and his example of faith, honor, and integrity.

Rick Larsen, president of the Sutherland Institute

On behalf of Sutherland Institute, and personally, I would like to offer deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences at the passing of Jon M. Huntsman Sr.

His ‘barefoot to billionaire’ story of success and leadership is unparalleled, but his true wealth is to be found in his legacy of faith, humanitarian service, his crusade against cancer and his outspoken advocacy around important issues of the day. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah

I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Jon Huntsman Sr. I knew him well as a friend, family man, and a mentor and will miss him dearly. I thank him for the advice, love, and support he provided both to me and to our state. My family and I have been deeply blessed by his friendship and owe him a debt of gratitude.

I know Jon will rightfully be remembered as a giant in the state of Utah, across the country, and around the world. His story exemplifies the American dream: He came from humble beginnings, and founded one of the most successful businesses in the nation, now known as the Huntsman Corporation. He was generous and compassionate with his success, investing personally in efforts to eradicate cancer and establishing the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. Thousands of lives have been blessed by that investment. I send my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to his family at this difficult time.

Utah House Democrats

Jon Huntsman Sr. was not just an inventive businessman and entrepreneur. He was a compassionate philanthropist who improved the quality of huge numbers of Utahns, Americans, and citizens of the world. He was wise, passionate, and committed to the commonwealth. We are grateful for his life. We will miss his influence very much. He leaves a remarkable legacy.

Associated Press reporters MICHELLE L. PRICE and LINDSAY WHITEHURST contributed to this story.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • PlanetU February 2, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    He seems to have been a great man and did so much for cancer research and helping many people.

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