Shining moments: A single ripple

The logic was as clear as the air he longed to breathe. Non-smokers have as much right to clear air as smokers have to light up, thought Mervin Holt when he first suggested the idea in 1966.

"A person has a right to breathe clean air," he stated in a legal opinion of non-smokers' rights.

The concept was novel in those days, even revolutionary, and, within hours — literally overnight — his suggestion became a hot topic in media around the world.

"The first thing I knew, a copy of the memorandum hit the newspapers," he stated in personal memoirs prior to his death in 1984. "Within a day it was all over the world. We received letters from every city in the United States and... countries in South America and Europe. We received enough mail to cover the desk, some contained money," he stated.

"Practically all were in favor. I guess that 98 percent of the letters favored making (clean air) a law.... We had a standing invitation to call collect the news service in Los Angeles with any new developments. I had offers to work for law firms I had never heard about."

Brother Holt knew a great deal about clean air. He was born in the sprawling open spaces of Fielding, Utah, in 1912. He worked the farm as a youth and assisted with the beet harvest for the local sugar factory each fall.

Years later, by the time he earned a law degree and served as the Tremonton (Utah) City attorney, he realized that the wafting odors from dairy cows were much preferable to the foul air of second-hand cigarette smoke.

And he let his feelings be known. He presented his idea in legal form — a single shot fired contrary to the prevailing culture of the time. He struck a bull's eye that stirred an outcry of criticism.

Over the years, Brother Holt, who had moved closer to Salt Lake City for new employment, let the issue fade. In the intervening years, that single ripple has joined a groundswell of public disapproval of second-hand smoke, leading to legislation nationally and internationally curbing cigarette smoke in public places. — Research and information provided by G. Ward Taylor

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