United States Sen. Orrin G. Hatch — a devout Latter-day Saint of pioneer stock, a statesman, a family man and a public servant — was memorialized Friday, May 6, as a tireless friend and lawmaker renowned for stepping beyond divisions to make his country better.
Relatives, friends, fellow politicians and hundreds of others gathered for the late senator’s funeral at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion located adjacent to the University of Utah campus.
A lifelong member, Hatch served 42 years in the United States Senate, chairing some of that chamber’s most influential committees. He was also a champion of religious liberty, perhaps best reflected in his sponsoring of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
He died April 23, 2022, at age 88.
Counted among Friday’s funeral speakers was Hatch’s fellow attorney and decades-long friend, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, along with U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Other Church leaders attending Friday’s service were President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
President Oaks met the man who would become Utah’s longest-tenured senator at Brigham Young University during the 1970s. Both men were young lawyers continuing their professional work in Utah. At the time, Hatch was considering running for the U.S. Senate — even as President Oaks was beginning his service at the Church-sponsored university.
“What drew us together was our families’ early and common pioneering roots in the same unsettled area of Utah,” said President Oaks. “Both the Hatch and the Oaks families arrived in what is now Vernal in 1879, when there were so few settlers that the area they settled in was first known as Hatchtown. They pioneered there for generations.”
What happened to Orrin Hatch over the past half-century is well known, noted President Oaks. The two friends remained in frequent contact as they worked on subjects of common and public interest.
“Now, born two years apart and tracing our ancestry through the same small Utah town, Orrin and I come together for what I like to refer to as Orrin G. Hatch’s graduation from mortality — with highest honors,” he said.
The Church leader referenced the First Presidency’s tribute to the late senator: “[His] tireless efforts on behalf of his country have benefited countless lives and his strength in promoting religious freedom will be a blessing to all people of faith for generations to come.”
President Oaks also testified of the resurrection and the blessings that await God’s children as they keep His commandments.
“To Sen. Hatch and to all Latter-day Saints who understand the plan of God, death is but an inevitable step in moving from one place to another in the wondrous unending journey prescribed by God our Eternal Father and made possible by the Atonement of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ,” he said.
The resurrection from death through Christ, President Oaks added, is real and certain. “What a significant assurance. What a glorious reality.”
At the conclusion of his talk, President Oaks read a letter from the First Presidency to Hatch’s wife, Elaine Hatch.
“We extend to you our condolences at the passing of your beloved husband and our friend, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch,” the letter read. “At the same time, we rejoice with you in his life of significant achievement.
“Sen. Hatch was well known in the United States as the longest serving senator from Utah in Senate history. Throughout his seven terms, he served his fellow citizens with devotion and humility. His deep appreciation for our country was demonstrated through his service
“We acknowledge his remarkable commitment to protecting religious freedom and unity. We appreciate Brother Hatch’s service in the Church in the various callings he received and magnified.
“He was a man of great character who brought honor to his family. We pray that you will be given peace and comfort at this sensitive time.”
Tributes from fellow Senate veterans
McConnell honored Hatch as “a statesman and a dear friend.” He thanked Elaine Hatch and her family “for lending Orrin to the Senate all these years.”
McConnell noted his friend’s humble upbringing in a working-class Pennsylvania home. Hatch never ceased to marvel at the blessings offered by his country and his God. His path to the echelons of U.S. politics had been an improbability.
“So like the good and faithful servant in our Lord’s Parable of the Talents, [Orrin] put his gifts to work, so they could multiply,” he said.
McConnell called Hatch a “master legislator” capable of championing bipartisan efforts to lift society’s vulnerable. “Orrin took his legislation to the same place where our Savior took His ministry: To the margins. To the periphery, serving the least [among us].”
Elder Gordon H. Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon and a fellow Latter-day Saint, said he includes his mentor and friend “in the pantheon of America’s best U.S. senators. … I am confident that the chronicles of American history will record that Orrin G. Hatch was one of its greatest legislators.”
Elder Smith, now an Area Seventy, also lauded his friend’s enthusiasm for sharing the gospel with others — while also respecting and protecting the different faith traditions and beliefs of others.
“Orrin had an ecumencial heart,” he said.
Hatch frequently demonstrated compassion for others by sharing handwritten letters, original songs or maybe just a shoulder to lean on.
“Orrin wasn’t a perfect man — just an extraordinarily good one,” said Elder Smith.
Prized lessons passed on to family, friends
Two of Hatch’s children — son Brent Orrin Hatch and daughter Marcia Hatch Whetton — also spoke at their father’s funeral Friday.
Hatch Whetton called her father “larger than life … and a friend to so many.”
Orrin Hatch was, she added, was a family man, first and foremost. His legacy will be his love and devotion for his wife, children and grandchildren.
He was also a loyal fan to all the Utah sports teams — especially BYU. His unpretentious dining preferences were a Costco hot dog/soda combo (price: $1.50) and a trip to Chuck-A-Rama, a Utah buffet restaurant chain.
Hatch also loved the scriptures and treasured his testimony of the Lord. Whenever loved ones departed the Hatch household, the family patriarch bid them farewell with this simple counsel: Live the gospel.
Brent Hatch spoke of the grief his father felt when his elder brother, Jesse Hatch, was killed in action during World War II. From that day forward, Orrin Hatch committed to living a purpose-driven life to honor his fallen sibling.
Orrin Hatch’s work ethic served him well as a full-time missionary (Great Lakes Mission), as a law student and attorney and, ultimately, in the U.S. Senate. “He simply outworked everyone,” said Brent Hatch.
Hatch also learned the value and reward of finding common ground with others. He counted Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and boxing icon Muhammad Ali, a devout Muslim, as close friends.
“And for my father, his faith in Christ was paramount.”
Zions Bank President A. Scott Anderson said his friend Orrin Hatch was a “truly great man” who “facilitated progress on a grand scale by using his influence and hard-won clout to build our nation, strengthen our communities, improve our neighborhoods and raise the lives of those who walk past us every day.”
Following Friday’s service, Hatch was to be laid to rest in the Newton Cemetery in Northern Utah.