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Robert H. Garff, a political and business leader in Utah for decades, died of the coronavirus on Sunday, becoming one of four Utahns to succumb to the disease.
His death was announced by his daughter, Melissa Ballard, who is now a member of the state House. Her father served as speaker of the Utah House from 1985 to 1987 and was a key organizer of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Garff, who was 78, was chairman of the Ken Garff Automotive Group, started by his family.
“I have [been] blessed to follow in his footsteps, learn under his tutelage, laugh at his fun, smile with his joys, and be the recipient of his love,” Ballard wrote.
Ken Garff Automotive released a statement saying that Robert and his wife, Katharine, tested positive for the virus after driving back from Palm Springs. They self-quarantined.
“Earlier this week Robert felt more ill and was admitted to the hospital. Katharine continues to recover at home,” the statement reads. “Robert was a giant in the community, a pioneer in the auto industry, and the biggest cheerleader to every employee at Ken Garff Automotive. Robert loved his family immensely and will be missed by them as well as his employees and many friends.”
Among them is Sen. Mitt Romney, who worked with Garff during the Olympics. Romney issued a statement on Sunday saying that Garff’s death “breaks my heart.”
“Bob’s contributions to our state, to our economy, and to our church will be heralded by many. But for me, it was his sound and principled leadership as the Chairman of the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 that is most compelling,” Romney said. “The scandal that surrounded the Games could have overwhelmed our collective commitment, but Bob’s genuine goodness, clear-eyed optimism, and can-do management experience helped to re-ignite our confidence and community spirit.”
Garff was a major contributor to the University of Utah, funding a business school building and the still-to-be-built Ken Garff Performance Zone” at the Rice-Eccles football stadium. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was once chairman of the board for Deseret Book Company. He served on the board of Intermountain Healthcare and is a former chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Garff, who lived in Bountiful, had five children with his wife, Katharine, and 21 grandchildren.
The Salt Lake Tribune will update this article.