Utah’s first female governor, Olene Walker, dies at 85

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker speaking at a Count My Vote petition signing event held at the Best Western Abbey Inn, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — The first woman to hold the office of governor in Utah, Olene Walker, died due to natural causes Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Walker served as Utah’s 15th governor from Nov. 5, 2003 to Jan. 3, 2005. Prior to that she served as the state’s first female Lt. Governor under Gov. Michael O. Leavitt from 1993-2003.

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker, the state's first female governor | Photo submitted, St. George News
Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker, the state’s first female governor | File photo, St. George News

Born Nov. 15, 1930, Walker recently celebrated her 85th birthday with family.

“First and foremost she was a fearless champion of education, recognizing that Utah’s future success was directly connected to the important, often unnoticed, work that takes place in our neighborhood schools,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “Wherever she went, she broke down barriers so future generations could follow her lead. Her legacy will be appropriately remembered in the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University.”

Gov. Herbert has authorized the lowering of the United States and Utah flags to be at half-staff in Walker’s honor. Flags will be flown at half-staff until sunset next Thursday.

Funeral arrangements are pending, according to a press release that announced the former governor’s passing.

“Gov. Walker broke barriers (and) stereotypes for the benefit of all Utahns,” Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, Jr., said over Twitter. “Her indomitable spirit lives on.”

As reported by Fox 13 News, former Gov. Leavitt issued a statement regarding Walker’s passing Saturday:

Governor Olene S. Walker will be remembered as a stateswoman, trailblazer for women, educator, loving mother, and a friend to all — especially the downtrodden. Throughout the nearly 11 years we served together she was a loyal partner, an example of personal goodness and devoted friend. Her disposition was perpetually optimistic, her demeanor dignified, and her tone kind. Olene Walker deserves a hallowed place in Utah history and will forever be remembered and missed by her family and friends. Jackie and I join with all Utahns in mourning her loss

Walker also served in the Utah Legislature from 1981 to 1989, where she served as the majority whip, the press release said.

“Beyond her accomplishments in public service, Walker most valued her enduring bonds with family and friends,” the release said. “She had a strong academic background and was focused on improving housing, education, healthcare and community development.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, of Utah’s 3rd congressional district, also said over Twitter: “So sorry about the passing of Gov Olene Walker. Always filled with optimism. She blazed new trails and inspired many. We will miss her.”

Following her term as Governor, Walker, along with her husband Myron, went on a two-year mission to New York City for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Walker also remained active in political and community initiatives like “Count My Vote” and “Real Women Run,” according to the press release. She was also active in church, serving as a primary president (the LDS Church program for children under 12) in the Bloomington 7th Ward when she was 80 years old.

She was a really grand lady, really neat,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. Pike serves as a member of the presidency of the LDS Bloomington Utah Stake, of which Walker’s ward was a part.

Pike got to know Walker in her post-governor years, he said, adding that her passing is “a real loss to the state.”

“Such a supporter of not only the state, but of course Southern Utah where she’s had a home for years,” Pike said.

Walker was born in Ogden, Utah. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Brigham Young University, Stanford University and the University of Utah, respectively. She married Myron, self-proclaimed Utah’s First Lad, in 1954 and had seven children, 25 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

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