The first and only female governor of Utah, Olene Walker, died Saturday at age 85 in Salt Lake City.
Considered one of the highest profile women in Utah politics, Republican Olene Walker was raised in Ogden and served in the Utah House of Representatives from 1981 until 1989. She was lieutenant governor for 11 years, and was elevated to governor when Mike Leavitt left in 2003 to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Walker served as Governor for more than a year, but delegates in the Utah Republican Party chose to nominate Jon Huntsman Jr. instead on the 2004 ballot.
Salt Lake City Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski was a representative in the House when Walker was in the Governor’s Office. She says Walker was a trailblazer and mentor.
“Her lesson is be tough, be smart, outwork them, and never forget you’re a lady,” Biskupski says. “I love all of that about her.”
Walker raised seven children, ran her own business, and also attended graduate school, making her Utah’s only governor to hold a PH.D. She is known for championing education, founding the Read with a Child Early Literacy Initiative and the Salt Lake Education Foundation. In 2012, Walker created the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University.
“Wherever she went, she broke down barriers so future generations could follow her lead,” Governor Gary Herbert said in a statement. He ordered government buildings to lower flags to half-staff in Walker's honor until Thursday.