Noted philanthropist and Utah businessman Obert C. Tanner, 89, died Thursday at a California hospital after suffering head injuries in a fall at his Palm Springs home a week ago Wednesday.
His death comes but four weeks after his last address to patrons of the Utah Symphony in which he told them: "Hearing and seeing great music is something like a mystical experience - a time of gladness or sadness, a time of despair or resolution, a time when one sees more clearly those values important to his or her own life."Mr. Tanner, himself a longtime supporter of the Utah Symphony and other Utah arts programs, was born Sept. 20, 1904, in Farmington. He and nine siblings were raised by their mother, Annie Clark Tanner, in poverty-ridden conditions.
He financed his own education by thinning sugar beets, building an ore dump, cleaning furnaces and selling high school class rings. He would eventually attend the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Stanford and Harvard and receive 11 degrees from various colleges and universities, four of which were earned and seven of which were honorary.
Mr. Tanner served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany from 1924-27 and was an LDS Seminary principal and teacher from 1927 to 1933. He later taught at Stanford University, where he also served as a chaplain. Beginning in 1946, he taught philosophy for 27 years at the University of Utah.
"He will be deeply missed," said Gov. Mike Leavitt. "O.C. Tanner embodies the public service generosity and wisdom espoused by many of the great philosophers he spent a lifetime studying. He enriched every one of us through his contributions to our universities, our culture and our public places."
Mr. Tanner was particularly involved in efforts to achieve world peace, teach human values and resolve conflicts. Six times, Mr. Tanner was named an American delegate to the Geneva Conference of the World Federation of the United Nations. After the 1957 meeting, he toured the Soviet Union for three weeks at his own expense. Two years later, he returned to the Soviet Union at the request of the Soviet delegation to the Geneva Conference.
He was later awarded the United Nations Peace Medal for his services on behalf of the United Nations Association.
Mr. Tanner, the author of 10 books on a variety of religious and human values topics, was a member of countless associations, commissions and boards of directors, including groups as diverse as the Utah Bicentennial Commission and the National Commission to Study the Organization of Peace. He received scores of awards, including the Governor's Award for the Arts in 1981.
In 1980, Queen Elizabeth invested Mr. Tanner into the American Society of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, a charitable and chivalric institution.
Mr. Tanner was founder and president of the O.C. Tanner Co., founded in 1927, and made his fortune manufacturing and selling jewelry and employee recognition awards. Annual sales of the company exceed $200 million.
Mr. Tanner's daughter, Carolyn Tanner Irish, will become chairman of the company's board of directors. She has served as chairman-elect since 1981.
O. Don Ostler, who has worked for the company 37 years, will continue as chief executive officer. He was named to the position in 1981. Kent Murdock joined the company in 1991 as president, succeeding Ostler. He also will continue to serve in that capacity.
Mr. Tanner spent nearly two decades preparing for the leadership transition after his death, company officials said.
As he told Utah Business magazine, "One could say we sell two values: the value of beauty and the value of kindness. The kindness is a company's willingness to recognize, with dignity, an individual for what he or she has given to that company. After all, giving the productive years of one's life, the daylight hours of each working day - this is the ultimate that an individual may give to any company."
Mr. Tanner had become a well-noted philanthropist by 1960, when he donated a 4,000-volume library and 30-student reading room, known as the Tanner Memorial Philosophy Library, to Stanford University. The donation was made in honor of three late sons. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, Joan Tanner Reddish and Carolyn Tanner Irish, and a son, David Obert Tanner.
Among his most well-known endowments is the annual "Gift of Music" biennial concerts featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Utah Symphony and world-famous guest artists. The gift provides concerts and first-hand appearances by the world's leading artists for those who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
In 1971, a $20,000 gift from Mr. Tanner to Southern Utah State College enabled the construction of a new Utah Shakespearean Festival theater on the campus. The theater was named the Adams Theater in honor of the parents of Mr. Tanner's wife.
Mr. Tanner's wife of 62 years, Grace Adams Tanner, was his faithful ally. In the early days of the business, the couple pawned her diamond ring "more than once" to provide operating capital for the business, company officials said.
In 1978, he sponsored an international lecture series on human values at the University of Utah. The founding of the permanent Tanner Lectures on Values attracted leading scholars and statesmen from around the world; the lectures have also been given annually at Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, Michigan, Stanford, the University of California, Yale and Princeton.
Perhaps Mr. Tanner will be best remembered by the dozens of fountains he donated to Utah hospitals and universities, as well as educational institutions around the world. The fountains in front of Abravanel Hall were a gift from Mr. Tanner.
Memorial services for Mr. Tanner are tentatively scheduled for Monday noon in Symphony Hall. Burial will be in Farmington.
Generosity and vision remembered
"The passing of Obert Tanner is a profound loss, not only to Utah, but to the nation. His life is the story of America. He was lavish with his worldly goods to the arts, music, education and public affairs, but he also gave himself. He will be sorely missed." - Warren E. Burger, former chief justice of the United States.
- Mr. Tanner's death left "a void that will not be filled by any one person. Obert Tanner did so much for Utah than anyone ever realized. We would not have Symphony Hall, the Capitol Theatre or the Utah Art Center if it were not for Obert.
"The O.C. Tanner factory is one of the most beautiful spots in the state of Utah with its beautiful gardens, fountains and surroundings. It was typical of O.C. Tanner to make everything a thing of beauty.
"He's done a lot for me, more than than anyone will ever know. I'm going to miss him very much. He was a very special friend." - Fred Ball, president of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
- "This is the end of an amazing era. I don't think even his family was completely aware of all that he contributed to the beauty of life in Utah. The Tanner lecture series (at the University of Utah) brought speakers onto campus that no school could have afforded had it not been for his generosity.
"The theaters he donated . . . wherever you go you run into a Tanner fountain . . . it's amazing. We're all better because of him. He was one of those rare men who created a miracle.
"He will be missed, not just for his generosity, but for his vision." - Fred Adams, founder of the Utah Shakespearean Festival at Southern Utah University.
- "Obert C. Tanner loved beauty and he will - and should be - remembered with gratitude and fondness by the people not only of Utah but the whole United States.
"I particularly remember and honor him for creating the Tanner Gift of Music Trust, which presents two performances of the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir together with celebrated soloists and conductors every other year in the Tabernacle. The primary purpose of these concerts is to share with those who might not otherwise be able to afford them, concerts and first-hand appearances by the world's leading artists.
"I also want to praise him for his leadership in getting a home for the Utah Symphony and also for Ballet West and the Utah Opera Company and the Salt Lake Art Center. He has made an incomparable contribution to this community and this state, and he will be sorely missed." - Harold L. "Huck" Gregory, secretary of the Tanner Gift of Music committee and former executive director of the Utah Symphony.
- "Utah has lost one of its greatest citizens. He was an individual who has not only been a great bene-factor to Utah's colleges and universities, but the whole fabric of Utah society.
"I think no one will ever really know the truth of what Mr. Tanner has donated. He has been totally unselfish in his gifts to Utah's colleges and universities. I think there are numerous situations where he has been an anonymous benefactor.
"He has been a great friend to higher education. Hopefully, there will be future O.C. Tanners who will follow his example and continue the good work he has started." - Douglas S. Foxley, former president and continuing member of Utah State Board of Regents.
- The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement:
"We express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Obert C. Tanner. His generosity and benevolence will be long and appropriately remembered for his gifts of beautiful fountains that adorn the state, a commitment to learning in his endowment of the Tanner Lectures in Human Values, a Gift of Music, a free public concert featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Utah Symphony and internationally acclaimed artists and his ongoing financial contributions and encouragement of the arts.Comment on this story
"His efforts were surely of that quality which please the eye, gladden the heart and enliven the soul.
"But even more so, Obert C. Tanner will be remembered for his kindness and gentleness."
- "I first met O.C. Tanner when he was a professor at the University of Utah and I was a student. I read his books, read his lectures, benefited from his community service and admired his willingness to share the fruits of his success. All of Utah is diminished by his passing." - Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.