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

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Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.

SALT LAKE CITY — Olene Smith Walker, the 15th governor of Utah and the first woman to hold that position in the Beehive State, died due to natural causes Saturday morning in Salt Lake City at the age of 85.

Walker served as governor from November 5, 2003 to January 3, 2005, according to the press release announcing the news of her death.

Walker had recently celebrated her 85th birthday with family. Walker was born November 15, 1930.

The release states funeral arrangements are still pending and will be announced at a later date.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement on Walker’s passing and announced that the flags of the United States of America and the state of Utah will be lowered in her honor until sunset on Thursday, December 3. See below for the full statement from Gov. Herbert:

“We celebrate the life of Gov. Walker not only because of the legacy she leaves behind as Utah’s first female governor, but also because of her many accomplishments while in that office. 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.

“While raising her seven children, running her own business and serving in the legislature, Gov. Walker also attended graduate school, making her Utah’s only Ph.D. governor. She also holds the distinction of being the longest-serving lieutenant governor in Utah history. 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.

“The First Lady and I extend our sincere condolences to her husband Myron and the entire Walker family during this time of mourning. On behalf of all Utahns, we express our gratitude for the sacrifice and leadership of one of Utah’s finest public servants.”

Jon Huntsman stated Saturday that Gov. Walker “broke barriers and shattered stereotypes for the benefit of all Utahns. Her indomitable spirit lives on.”

Former Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt also issued a statement, saying Walker will be remembered as a trailblazer and a friend.

“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. “

Salt Lake City Mayor-Elect Jackie Biskupski also released a statement, saying she considered it an honor to have the opportunity to work with Walker.

“Governor Walker was a trailblazing woman in Utah politics who made our state a better place by setting an example of civility and kindness that should be the hallmarks of public service.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with Gov. Walker and am confident her legacy will live on in part through all of us who were touched by her dedication and commitment to Utah’s future.“

Peter Corroon, Chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said Walker was a champion of early childhood education before others recognized its importance.

“Olene Walker was a true public servant, both as an elected official and in the many other roles she played in the community. She was a champion of early childhood education before others recognized its importance. She supported healthcare reform for women and children. She led by example in her efforts to encourage women to become involved at all levels of the political process. She was also one of the most gracious ladies I have ever met. Her graciousness was matched only by her work ethic and her great sense of humor. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Governor Walker’s family.”

The Salt Lake Chamber also issued a statement, saying Utah lost a “True Stateswoman”:

“The business community joins many across our state as we mourn the loss of Utah’s former Governor, Olene Walker.

Governor Walker was an optimistic stateswoman who demonstrated extraordinary leadership by placing emphasis on education and public service.

Olene and her husband, Myron, touched citizens across this state as they tirelessly served the people of Utah. She leaves behind a legacy of being Utah’s first and only female governor. She will long be remembered and deeply missed. The Salt Lake Chamber and the business community extend our condolences to the Walker Family.”

The press release states Walker leaves behind a legacy in “Service, Family, Education and Community Development.” See the embedded document below for the full press release.

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker Has Died