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Utah Philanthropist And Businessman Jon Huntsman Sr. Dies At 80

Julia Ritchey
Jon Huntsman Sr. speaks to reporters at an Oct. 2017 ceremony for his son Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Jon M. Huntsman Sr., a billionaire businessman, philanthropist and political organizer, died Friday at age 80. 

Huntsman is best known for his generous philanthropy throughout the state of Utah. A four-time cancer survivor, he donated well over a billion dollars to various causes over his lifetime. He helped establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, and founded the Huntsman Cancer Foundation to raise money for the Institute.

Born in 1937, Huntsman was raised in poverty in Blackfoot, Idaho. He started a successful packaging business that eventually became a global chemical manufacturing company.

Huntsman will also be remembered as a dedicated father, grooming his children for leadership positions in business, government and philanthropy.

In December, his son Peter Huntsman took over full leadership of Huntsman Corporation, a move signaling Huntsman Sr. was ready to hand control over to his heirs. 

One of his other sons, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., now serves as U.S. ambassador to Russia. 

At a ceremonial swearing in of Huntsman Jr. last October at the state Capitol, a beaming Huntsman Sr. called his son the right man for the job. 

“He probably understands diplomacy and international affairs better than anyone in America today,” Huntsman Sr. told reporters. 

Huntsman is survived by his wife, Karen, eight of his nine children and dozens of grandchildren.

Utahns React

Word of Huntsman Sr.'s death was met with an outpouring of tributes from leaders across the state.

Credit Taner Pasamehmetoglu – R&R Partners/Kneaders Bakery & Cafe
Jon Huntsman Sr. and his wife Karen at an event for “Hope Fights Childhood Cancer” in Nov. 2017.

A visibly emotional House Speaker Greg Hughes reacted to the news as it spread throughout the state Capitol on Friday.

“It caught me by surprise,” Hughes said. “I spoke with Mr. Huntsman just as the session was getting started. He’s been a mentor and a friend of mine. I think it’s a loss for our state.”

Other elected officials and organizations issued statements honoring Huntsman’s legacy. Top LDS Church leaders remembered Huntsman for his generosity and service. Gov. Gary Herbert called him a champion of business, philanthropy, and the entire state of Utah.

The University of Utah tweeted that Huntsman Sr.'s generosity would "benefit students, faculty, researchers and people throughout Utah and the Intermountain West far into the future."

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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