SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell paid tribute Friday to the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, celebrating the Utah icon as a principled conservative, committed public servant and man of faith.
Two weeks after Hatch died at age 88 from a stroke, McConnell joined family, friends, former colleagues and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Hatch Days to commemorate the seven-term U.S. senator in a ceremony held at a chapel at the Salt Lake City Institute of Religion.
“Every piece of legislation Orrin crafted was like a handwritten note. Every bill was an Orrin Hatch ‘Thank You’ to our nation from a caring patriot who wanted to give back,” McConnell said.
McConnell and others honored Hatch’s legislative accomplishments, which included attending confirmation hearings for dozens of federal judges and helping former President Donald Trump enact a $1.5 trillion tax cut. dollars. They also acknowledged his hardscrabble background growing up in Depression-era Pennsylvania, his frugality, and sense of humor.
“He was a bridge builder, a collaborator, a sports enthusiast, a songwriter, a man of God and a cherished friend,” said Scott Anderson, chairman of the Hatch Foundation.
Brent Hatch, the senator’s son, quoted a veteran Utah reporter who called Hatch “Utah’s most important politician since Brigham Young.”
Young led Latter-day Saint pioneers in Utah and served as its first territorial-era governor.
The Hatch children remembered their father for his sense of humor, his passion for storytelling and his love of reasonably priced food, including Costco’s beef hot dogs and the restaurant chain‘s buffet. of Utah Chuck-A-Rama.
“He was really larger than life,” said his daughter, Marcia Hatch Whetton. “Dad had an amazing sense of humor and an infectious laugh.”
First elected in 1976, Hatch ended his seven-term U.S. Senate tenure in 2019 as the longest-serving Republican senator in history. He spent 32 of his 42 years in office as a top Republican on key committees and helped reshape the federal court system — including the U.S. Supreme Court — and pass compromise laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
A staunch conservative, Hatch championed lower taxes and opposed abortion. Early in his career, he frequently engaged in compromise with Democrats, including with his friend the late Massachusetts Senator Ed Kennedy, and supported Democratic presidential choices for the Supreme Court, including when then-President Bill Clinton, appointed the late Justice Ruth Bader. Ginsbourg in 1993.
Gordon Smith, a former two-term Republican senator from Oregon, called Hatch a mentor and noted his talent for both making noise and ultimately getting him adopted.
“Certainly, Orrin has made his share of noise. But Orrin had the humility and wisdom to also be a student of the Senate. It made him listen and learn,” Smith said. “…He has mastered the art of finding the center of common sense necessary to make law, not just noise, in the United States Senate.”
Friday’s memorial service also highlighted the distinctive extracurricular activities for which Hatch has become known in Washington DC and Utah. An accomplished songwriter, Hatch wrote more than 300 tracks, including “Jesus’ Love is Like a River” and “No Empty Chairs,” which his grandchildren sang during the service. He also led a folk-rock band called “The Free Agency” which had been a psychedelic rock band in San Francisco before the members converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Growing up as a boxer, he maintained a passion for the sport, developing friendships with Utah Jazz basketball star Karl Malone and boxer Muhammad Ali, whom he spoke about at the funeral in 2016.