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Community leader Robert H. Garff dies of coronavirus

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Former legislator Robert "Bob" H. Garff, 77, died from COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a Facebook post by his daughter Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake.

Garff and his wife Katharine both tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a visit to Palm Springs, according to a statement from the Ken Garff Automotive Group.

The two "immediately self-quarantined. Earlier this week Robert felt more ill and was admitted to the hospital. Katharine continues to recover at home."

Garff's is the third COVID-19 death in the state. Officials have not yet reflected his death in their totals.

"Robert was a giant in the community, a pioneer in the auto industry, and the biggest cheerleader to every employee at Ken Garff Automotive," the automotive group wrote in a statement. "Robert loved his family immensely and will be missed by them as well as his employees and many friends."

Garff served as the Utah speaker of the House of Representatives between 1985 and 1987, and was chairman of Garff Enterprises, Inc.— founded in Salt Lake City in 1932.

With his family, he founded the Keys to Success program for Utah students and helped fund a new building for the University of Utah School of Business.

"He had a profound impact on the University of Utah and cared deeply for our student-athletes," University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham wrote in a statement.

Garff is also known for his work in the 2002 Olympics, where he served as the chairman of the board of trustees of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

A lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Garff served his religious community as well, including as an Area Seventy and as president of the Bountiful Utah Temple.

He is remembered for his work in the community and inspiring many, including his five children and 21 grandchildren.

"He has lived a long and happy life, full of vigor and love for our state and our families," Ballard said. "I count myself blessed to be serving in the Utah House of Representatives just as my Dad did."

Those who worked with Bob over the years added their condolences.

"When the final history of Utah is written, Bob Garff deserves his own chapter," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement. "He leaves behind a legacy of integrity, hard work, and service. A few weeks ago I had breakfast with Bob. He was always so generous with his time and wisdom, yet humble with his own successes. But mostly he loved his incredible family."

Similarly, Sen. Mitt Romney also noted the footprint Garff left on the state, his church and the economy, saying Garff's contributions "will be heralded by many."

“But for me, it was his sound and principled leadership as the Chairman of the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 that is most compelling," Romney said in a statement. "The scandal that surrounded the Games could have overwhelmed our collective commitment, but Bob’s genuine goodness, clear-eyed optimism, and can-do management experience helped to re-ignite our confidence and community spirit. The Games were arguably the best ever, in large measure thanks to the character and care of Bob Garff.”

Gov. Gary Herbert said Garff "touched countless lives and gave so much service to our state, and its people."

"He was such a positive example to all of us," Herbert tweeted. "He leaves a hole in our heart and in the community."

Garff, who was a founding board member of the Utah Sports Commission, "played a vital role as an advocate for sport in Utah," Utah Sports Commission CEO Jeff Robbins said. "He will be greatly missed."

Scott Howell, a former state lawmaker and fellow 2002 Olympic committee member, said, "Bob's demeanor and his genuine love of mankind was always reflected in the way that he worked with people."

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes also offered his condolences after losing his own father on Friday.

"I'm heartbroken this weekend," Reyes wrote on Twitter. "I will always be grateful for Bob's early support and sage advice when I first ran for office."


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