SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell paid tribute to the late Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday, celebrating the Utah icon as a principled conservative, committed public servant and man of faith.
Two weeks after Hatch died at age 88 from complications stemming from a stroke, McConnell joined Hatch's family, friends, former colleagues and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to memorialize the seven-term U.S. senator at a ceremony held at a chapel at the Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City.
“Each 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 achievements, which included participating in the confirmation hearings of dozens of federal judges and helping then-President Donald Trump enact a $1.5 trillion tax cut. They also recognized his hardscrabble origins growing up in Depression-era Pennsylvania, his frugality and his sense of humor.
“He was a bridge-builder, a collaborator, a sports enthusiast, a songwriter, a man of God, and a cherished friend," Scott Anderson, the chair of Hatch's foundation, said.
Brent Hatch, the senator's son, quoted a veteran Utah journalist who called Hatch “the most important Utah politician since Brigham Young."
Young led Latter-day Saint pioneers to Utah and served as its first territory-era governor.
Hatch's children remembered their father for his sense of humor, passion for storytelling and love of reasonably priced food, including beef hot dogs from Costco and the buffet at the Utah restaurant chain Chuck-A-Rama.
“He really was larger than life,” his daughter, Marcia Hatch Whetton, said. “Dad had an amazing sense of humor and an infectious laugh.”
First elected in 1976, Hatch ended his seven-term tenure in the U.S. Senate in 2019 as the chamber's longest serving Republican senator in history. He spent 32 of his 42 years in office as the top ranking Republican on key committees and helped reshape the federal judiciary — including the U.S. Supreme Court — and pass compromise legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Children's Health Insurance Program.
A stalwart conservative, Hatch championed low taxes and opposed abortion. Early in his career, he frequently took part in compromises with Democrats, notably with his friend, the late Massachusetts Sen. Ed Kennedy, and supported Democratic presidential choices for the Supreme Court, including when then-President Bill Clinton nominated the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.
Gordon Smith, a former two-term Republican senator from Oregon, called Hatch a mentor and noted his knack for both making noise and ultimately cutting through it to pass legislation.
“To be sure, Orrin made his share of noise. But Orrin had the humility and the wisdom to be a student of the Senate too. That led him to listen and to learn,” Smith said. “... He mastered the art of finding the common sense center that is necessary to making law, not just noise, in the United States Senate."
Friday's memorial service also highlighted the distinctive extracurricular pursuits Hatch became known for in Washington D.C. and Utah. An accomplished songwriter, Hatch authored more than 300 tracks, including “Jesus' Love is Like a River,” and “No Empty Chairs,” which his grandchildren sang at the service. He also managed a folk-rock band called “The Free Agency” that had been a psychedelic rock group 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 lifelong passion for sports, developed friendships with Utah Jazz basketball star Karl Malone and boxer Muhammad Ali, whose funeral he spoke at in 2016.