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SALT LAKE CITY — Gail Miller was an influential figure in Utah for many years, but when her late husband, Larry, passed away in 2009, she knew more would be required of her than ever.
“We were a good team. I supported him and he did the work,” Miller said. “When (Larry) … passed away, I knew there was a legacy to continue and that I would be instrumental in doing that, even though our son took over the company. … I had a void to fill.”
Miller’s own legacy of business ventures and philanthropic work were recognized in grand fashion Thursday by the Salt Lake Chamber when she was named the 36th “Giant In Our City.”
Hundreds attended Miller’s awards banquet at the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, as she joined renowned Utahns — including George S. Eccles, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and former governors Jon Huntsman Jr. and Michael Leavitt — as a recipient of the award. The night was punctuated by a surprise finale performance from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
“This is one of the awards that not very many people get, (and) I know it’s given with great thought,” Miller said Thursday. “I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that I would be honored as a 'Giant In Our City.'"
Miller is just the second woman to receive the award, joining Episcopal Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish. She and Larry Miller, who was honored in 2007, are the only husband and wife to have both been named "Giant In Our City."
“Gail is really getting this on her own merits,” A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank CEO and 2014 "Giant In Our City" award winner, told the Deseret News.
Anderson said Miller was relied upon to be a bridge builder following Larry Miller’s passing. Gail Miller is well known for founding with her husband the Larry H. and Gail Miller Famly Foundation, which contributes to a wide range of religious and charitable initiatives — Larry H. Milller Charities, which focuses on donating to nonprofits; and Driven 2 Teach, an initiative that takes history teachers to historical sites in the United States.
She's tirelessly created miracles in our community. She knows what it's like to come from very little. She know what it's like to sacrifice for other people. She has stepped forward and been the bridge.
–A. Scott Anderson
Miller is also heavily involved in working with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to assist the city’s homeless.
“She’s tirelessly created miracles in our community,” Anderson said. “She knows what it’s like to come from very little. She know what it’s like to sacrifice for other people. She has stepped forward and been the bridge.”
Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie told those gathered to honor Miller that her greatest accomplishments were achieved as a mother.
“What a pleasure it has been for me to know somebody whose children love her. And that’s probably the greatest compliment anyone can have,” Beattie said.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also spoke at the banquet, calling Miller an individual who centered her life around service, both in small acts and in the wider community.
“Salt Lake City is a better place to live because of you,” Elder Ballard said, addressing Miller.
Elder Ballard said the magnitude of Miller’s giving personality is uncommon.
“You don’t see people like her every day,” he said.
Miller spoke with reporters before the ceremony about the state of the Larry H. Miller Group, which announced earlier this month it will be adopting a new corporate structure that uses an outside board of directors.
Miller said she and her late husband decided to transition operational control of the company as early as 2008 to bring the business conglomerate “into the next generation.”
“(Larry) said, ‘We need to do an outside board.’ We’ve just been so busy the last six years (growing) the business, we put it on the back burner, but we have 10,000 employees, and it’s time."
The Millers’ son, Greg, announced earlier this month he would be stepping down from his position as CEO to make time for personal pursuits.
Gail Miller said Thursday that the group, which owns more than 80 businesses nationwide, was simply too large to manage merely as a family business. She praised Greg’s leadership of Larry H. Miller Group.
“The company has just grown so big and done so well under Greg, and it was time for a new structure,” she said.
Miller said she is confident the business conglomerate will continue to thrive.
“Hopefully (the business) will last for many lifetimes,” she said.