Friends and family gathered on Saturday to remember a giant of Utah philanthropy and business, Jon Huntsman Sr., who died Feb. 2 at the age of 80.
The billionaire entrepreneur was remembered fondly at funeral services held at the basketball stadium bearing his name at the University of Utah — an institution Huntsman donated generously to throughout his life.
“He was a small town western boy with eastern Wall Street drive. A man at home anywhere with anyone," said Jon Huntsman Jr., his eldest son and the current U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Huntsman Jr. eulogized his father’s rags to riches story. Born into poverty in Idaho, Huntsman Sr. rose to become the founder of a multinational chemical company, also serving as a political operative during the Nixon administration and giving away millions to charity over his lifetime.
“He was a man of action, he was a man of results, he lived a full, bold American life," said Huntsman Jr.
Huntsman Jr. said part of what made his father’s life so impactful was his attention to people and to his family.
Family is a large part of Huntsman Sr.’s legacy. Survived by eight of his nine children, many in the Huntsman clan are involved in high levels of business, faith, philanthropy and diplomacy. Among his direct descendants are more than 50 grandchildren and 26 great-children, many of whom attended Saturday's service.
Peter Huntsman, CEO and chairman of the board of the Huntsman Corporation, said his father's half-a-century business career included investments in sporting good stores, hotels, condominiums, antique autos and the record industry — many of which were never successful.
"To the best of my knowledge, he lost money in nearly every one of these. He once said the Internet was a passing fad," he said to laugher. "The difference with my father is he looked at adversity as an opportunity to learn."
Peter Huntsman said one of his family's most enduring legacies would be the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and Institute, founded in the 1990s to help find a cure for the disease that Huntsman Sr. overcame four separate times during his life.
“The only thing more ambitious than dad’s business ideas were his philanthropic dreams," said Peter Huntsman. "Often times, our biggest struggle was trying to make money as fast as he was giving it away.”
Jon Huntsman Jr. said the cancer institute would continue as his mother and father's crowning achievement under the direction of Huntsman Cancer Institute Director Mary Beckerle. Beckerle was briefly fired and then reinstated last year in a public power struggle between the University and Huntsman family.
More than a thousand people gathered at the Jon M. Huntsman Center for the memorial, including top elected officials and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Huntsman's denomination.
Huntsman Sr. was to be interred later Saturday in a private ceremony at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park in Salt Lake City.