Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our HD signals for BBC and Classical KUER are down. We are working to restore them.

The 'King of Hugs' In Utah’s Capitol Passes Away

Utah Senate
The Utah State Senate shared the news Thursday that Matt Hillyard had died peacefully at home that morning.

Matt Hillyard was someone you’ve probably never met — unless you spent time at the Utah State Senate. There, he was famous and beloved. 

He always had a smile and usually a hug to share. He hugged governors and lawmakers from both parties. He hugged the Capitol staff and even the media. He was the son of Utah’s longest-serving senator, Lyle Hillyard, and often sat next to him. Sometimes he’d help preside from the Senate President’s dais.

There’s been an outpouring since the State Senate announced Matt died on Thursday.

Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter: “We love you, Matt. Thanks for sharing your light with us for so many years.”

What Herbert meant was obvious to people who knew Matt, who was born with Down Syndrome. You can hear it in this clip from a video a few years ago.

“Say, ‘I love to give hugs’" the videographer coaxes.

"Oh, yeah," says Matt. "I love hugs."

"Now, can you blow some kisses to the camera?"

Matt puffs and adds: "I love you.”

Then the two make the rounds, and a counter in the corner of the video shows how he racks up dozens of hugs in only minutes.

Matt was expected to die young because of his condition. But he beat the odds. He lived to 42.

And now, this year, when his birthday rolls around in February, he’ll be sorely missed. That’s because it will be the first time that anyone can remember that he’s not on the Senate floor, beaming, as everyone sings “Happy Birthday” to him.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.