Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who died at 88, remembered as a pioneer

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who died at 88, remembered as a pioneer

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Sen. Mike Lee remembered Orrin Hatch as a pioneer who never forgot his roots during a speech Tuesday on the Senate floor honoring the life of the longtime Utah senator who died this past Saturday at age 88.

“Orrin Hatch was a pioneer, through and through. Not just the descendant of pioneers, but a pioneer in his own right,” he said.

“He followed in the footsteps of his forebears, and he left a legacy of dedication, of service, and of truth. I commend his memory to the history of our republic in the words of a beloved hymn fittingly entitled, “They the Builders of the Nation.”

Hatch retired in 2019, his 42 years in office making him the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate history and the longest serving from Utah. Only five Democrats served in the Senate longer than Hatch.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who replaced Hatch in the Senate, is scheduled to pay tribute to Hatch on Wednesday.

Every day upon entering his Senate office, Hatch would see a prominently hung painting depicting his Utah pioneer grandfather and great-grandfather fording a stream on horseback. 

“This image, like so much else in his life, was a reminder of Sen. Hatch’s pioneer legacy, his ancestry and destiny,” said Lee, who served in the Senate with Hatch for eight years.

Hatch, he said, always remembered his roots. One of nine children, he grew up in a family of little means in a cramped, Depression-era house without indoor plumbing. Two of his siblings died young and his older brother, Jesse, died as a turret gunner flying over Austria in World War II just months before the allied victory in Europe.

“Orrin always remembered this example of work and sacrifice from his parents and brother Jesse,” Lee, R-Utah, said. “The sense of duty to God, family and nation was the primary driver throughout his life.”

Hatch just did the work that was expected of him, and did it remarkably well, Lee said. He developed the reputation of a fighter, and while a dedicated friend with an inviting laugh, he would never forget the lessons he learned young while in the amateur boxing ring, he said.

Hatch defended life, religious liberty, economic responsibility and personal freedom throughout his time in the Senate. His 750 proposals that became law cover everything from welfare reform, regulatory restructuring, laws adjusting the federal judiciary, to tax cuts, Lee said.

Beyond his political accomplishments, Hatch was a dedicated father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and man of faith, Lee said. He always remembered the most important things in life. He composed countless songs of praise and patriotism. He served as a volunteer leader in his church congregations and his communities. 

Hatch always remembered Utah, Lee said.

“On weekends you would find him at the grocery store and his church congregation rubbing elbows with the people he knew and loved. He would talk about the politics of the day, but also the news affecting communities and families he cared for,” he said.

After serving as Senate page for Hatch in high school, Lee said he had two photos on his bedroom wall: one of Utah Jazz star Karl Malone, and the other of him with Hatch.   

Lee recalled receiving a letter and a $10 check from Hatch while serving as a missionary in Texas a few years later.

“I cherished the note, and never could cash the check. The memory and memento were  worth so much more than the lunch it could buy. I still have that check. It’s a prized possession,” he said.

Hatch would go to the Senate early and stay late. He would think years ahead and persistently pursue his plans. He would take the time to build coalitions behind ideas and bring about needed reforms, Lee said.

“Sen. Hatch knew that the Senate was designed to be the cooling saucer where ideas would steep and percolate, often over the course of years and even decades,” he said.

Yet, Lee said, Hatch always remembered the people behind the politics. He was a mentor and friend to senators from both sides of the aisle and built deep friendships with those of all political backgrounds. He cherished a friendship with Sen. Ted Kennedy and called the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a dear friend, he said.

Hatch instilled his hallmark good humor and sense of duty on the newer members of the Senate, Lee said, including himself in that group. He said Hatch greeted him warmly when he arrived in the senate and only mentioned a few times that fact that he had served as his Senate page years earlier.

Lee said Hatch was a force for collegiality and cooperation. While he remained dedicated to the principles and people that brought him to the Senate, he would work with anyone and everyone to get the job done, he said.

 “Orrin Hatch was a giant of the Senate and a veritable pillar in Utah,” Lee said. “His influence, his hearty laugh, and powerful advice are missed by us here and by millions in Utah.”



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