SALT LAKE CITY – Former Sen. Robert F. Bennett died Wednesday evening due to health complications. He was 82 years old.
According to a post on the former senator’s Facebook page, he died due to complications from pancreatic cancer and a recent stroke. Bennett was diagnosed with cancer in early 2015.
“Tonight, surrounded by his wife and children, former U.S. Senator Robert Foster Bennett passed away peacefully at his home…,” the post stated. “His final days were filled with kindness and love, and the family greatly appreciates the outpouring of well wishes and support. It touched his heart, and deeply touched ours, to see how much he was loved.”
Since its posting, the Facebook post has been confirmed by various news agencies.
Bennett served as one of Utah’s Republican senators from 1992 to 2010. While in the Senate, he developed a reputation as a moderate conservative.
At home, Bennett’s seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee helped earn him a reputation as a defender of congressional earmarks and the go-to person to get federal funding for local projects.
He was ousted by Tea Party favorite Mike Lee during the 2010 primaries.
Bennett had a stroke on April 11 that paralyzed the left side of his body and left him unable to stand or swallow. He told the Deseret News a week later the cancer had been diagnosed within a year earlier. It started in his pancreas but had spread to his stomach and near his liver. Bennett said he was receiving hospice care at his home in Arlington, Virginia.
Bennett was criticized by opponents within his own party for being in office too long after promising to only serve two terms, for supporting a bailout for distressed banks, and for working with Democrats on his own health care bill to require Americans to buy health insurance.
After leaving the Senate, Bennett went on to become chairman of the Bennett Group, a consulting firm. He also became a registered lobbyist in 2013.
He also became a resident scholar with the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and penned regular opinion columns for Salt Lake City newspapers.
The former senator also became a vocal critic of the conservative wing of the party. He repeatedly said it was pushing the party away from mainstream Americans in favor of ultra-conservatives in the model of Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964 who was soundly defeated in the presidential election.
Bennett stayed on top of emerging technologies and in 2001 became one of the first members of Congress to purchase a hybrid vehicle. In 2006, he advocated for tax breaks for fuel-efficient vehicles.
Bennett’s interest in technology began in the late 1970s. He served as chairman of American Computers Corp. from 1979 to 1981 and president of Microsonics Corp. from 1981 to 1984.
During his 18 years in the Senate, Bennett served on the Senate Appropriation Committee and leveraged that position to direct as much money as possible to Utah. Bennett frequently dismissed critics of congressional earmarks, saying the money was going to be spent anyway and Utah deserved its fair share.
He would ask those who questioned him, “Would you rather have that money go to Los Angeles?”
While Bennett proudly touted every earmark he secured for the state, he said he was most proud of a bill he sponsored in 2008 that helped designate how public lands in southern Utah would be managed. It was a thorny issue that environmentalists, developers and federal agencies fought over for years, although it received little public attention.
Bennett came from a line of prominent Utahans. His grandfather, Heber J. Grant, was the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his father, Wallace Bennett, served four terms in the Senate.
The political bug caught Bob Bennett early on. His first elected office was that of student body president at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
As news of Bennett’s passing spread over social media, civil officials and others began to issues statements honoring the former senator.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert:
Our prayers are with the Bennett family today as we mourn the passing of the former Sen. Bob Bennett. Bob was a tremendous public servant who faithfully represented our state. A born leader, his passion for public service came early in life and guided his lifetime of service and civic involvement. I will remember Bob as someone who was always quick to take on an assignment and slow to take credit once he accomplished it. Above all, he was a man of integrity who loved his family and the people he served. Jeanette and I extend out heartfelt condolences to his wife and their six children.
Sen. Orrin Hatch:
I had the incredible honor of serving alongside Bob Bennett for nearly two decades as we represented the State of Utah in the United States Senate. In that time, Bob served our state and the nation with unwavering devotion. In the Senate, he was widely respected as a wise and thoughtful leader committed to finding innovative solutions to the most difficult challenges of the day. Above all else, he was a passionate fighter for Utahns, whom were always foremost in his mind. Our state has benefited tremendously from his many years of loyal service. I will remember Bob not only as an admired colleague and a trusted partner, but also as a cherished friend that I will miss dearly. Elaine and I send our deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers to Joyce and the entire Bennett family at this difficult time.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes:
We are saddened by the passing of Senator Bob Bennett. He was a giant in many respects; a tremendous public servant who used his significant intellect, business experience and deep compassion for humanity to represent our great state and work across the aisle on complex issues during tumultuous times. Utah mourns.
On a personal note, I have known him and his family since I was very young. He was always a family man, a spiritual man, a great husband, father and American. He was one who encouraged me to run for office on the premise that one of the greatest sacrifices we can make is serving our fellow man in the public square.
Utah House Democratic Caucus Manager Patrice Arent:
I was privileged to know Senator Bennett for many years. Whenever we talked, it didn’t matter that I was a Democrat; what mattered was that I was a Utahn. We shared a love of politics, art and Shakespeare. Last summer I fondly recall discussing plays with him at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. During the past few years every time I saw him, he would remind me that he worked at a law firm in DC founded by my uncle. Senator Bennett was a strong supporter of Israel, a topic that brought us together.
I may have not always agreed with his views on policy issues, but I always appreciated his civility. In this political climate that might seem like a weakness, but that is what Utah and our nation so desperately need. We have lost a leader in Utah, someone who made a major contribution to our state and nation. His presence and his politics will be missed.
Thomas Wright, former chair of the Utah Republican Party:
Senator Bob Bennett was an honest, honorable man. He was a good friend to me. RIP, Senator. You’ll be missed. Prayers to you & your family.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:
Ann and I have heavy hearts tonight as we have learned that our friend, Senator Bob Bennett, has passed away. For many years, Bob has been a friend and a counselor. When I ran for public office, he spent hours with me, offering advice and sharing his experience. When I moved to Utah to take responsibility for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, he helped me navigate the government agencies and U.S. Senate committees to secure essential resources that would make the Games successful. His keen mind made him a leading figure in the Senate on issues as disparate and far-reaching as emerging technologies and federal budgets. He was respected by men and women on both sides of the aisle, not only for his expertise but also for his common touch, his common sense, and his commitment to uncommon virtues. What I will remember most about Senator Bennett is his unwavering commitment to principle; his is an example of integrity and character that will long live in the memories of all of us who knew him. God be with you, Bob, till we meet again at Jesus’ feet.
Rep. Chris Stewart:
Senator Bennett has been a close family friend for many years and there are few people for which I have more respect. I spent some time with him recently and was reminded once again that he is one of the smartest men I know. After winning my election in 2012, he was one of the first to bring me under his wing to offer advice and support. We will all miss his wisdom, wit and work ethic. My thoughts and prayers are with the Bennett family during this extremely difficult time.
Peter Corroon, Utah Democratic Party chair:
Bob Bennett was an intelligent, collaborative senator who was willing to work across the political aisle in the best interest of Utahns. He always had a warm welcome and a piece of history to share when I had the good fortune of meeting with him. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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