Olene S. Walker, who was sworn in as Utah’s first and (so far) only woman governor in 2003, has died at the age of 85.
According to the New York Times, Walker was considered “one of the highest-profile women in Utah politics.” A somewhat nontraditional Republican, Walker worked to support public schools and early childhood literacy during her short time in office, and ended the use of firing squads for executions in 2004.
After serving as Lieutenant Governor of Utah for 10 years, she stepped into the role of governor following Mike Leavitt’s departure in 2003 for the EPA. In the 2004 election, however, Walker failed to secure the party nomination—the first time in 48 years, according to the Times, that an incumbent Utah governor did not get the nomination—and was succeeded by John Huntsman, Jr.
In a Salt Lake Tribune article, friends and allies described Walker as “tough” and extremely hard-working—as well as routinely underestimated:
That inner toughness in an affable, gentle-mannered woman who liked to greet people with hugs and loved to laugh (often at herself) was part of the persona that prompted some in the rough-and-tumble world of politics to refer to her, dismissively (though never to her face), as “Aunt Bee.” The reference to the kind but somewhat befuddled matriarch from Mayberry in the “Andy Griffith Show” also was helped along by the aura of discombobulation that Walker sometimes emitted.
Close friend and former House Speaker Nolan Karras told the Tribune of her (extremely relatable) habit of losing her purse several times a day, adding: “She kind of gave you this impression of a sweet lady that was sort of disorganized, and then you just watched her clean the clock of people who took her for granted.”
She is survived by her husband Myron and a whopping 7 children, 25 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren.
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Image via Associated Press.