Orrin Hatch might look like a stuffed shirt, with his ramrod straight posture and the sober bearing of a former Mormon bishop, which he is, but there are many sides to the man. If you don't believe it, just ask him.
"I have a soft side, and I have a tough side," he explains.
There's this soft side, which is the source of hundreds of poems and songs, many of which have been recorded. He has penned songs about love, patriotism, God. He has written songs for his wife, Elaine, and for his famous friends. There's this soft side that buys art and listens to classical music and spends hours poring over books.
There is this tough side, which is why he once punched out a BYU football player in his college days and called President Bill Clinton a jerk and took up Clarence Thomas' defense with the tenacity of a cornered bulldog.
The tough side is also where he grew up, as in on the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh in a ramshackle house that used a billboard for one wall.
In the middle of a long, rambling discussion of his life, Hatch pauses to note, "I'm complex."
Which would explain the five books soon to be six that have been written trying to explain this one-man phenomenon, including one by the senator himself. He is a bundle of pent-up energy, a workaholic who begins and ends his day in the dark. He gets up at 5 a.m., arrives at work at 6 and routinely returns home anywhere from 8 to 10 p.m., and he's been doing it for 27 years.
"I believe there is no one who can outwork Orrin Hatch," says Heather Barney, Hatch's longtime assistant. "He is tireless. He is driven. He never stops. He exhausts those around him. He overwhelms you. I do not know how he gets so many things accomplished in one day."
This is one way: He doesn't sleep. He's a world-class insomniac who survives on five to six hours of sleep each night, which is luxurious compared to the four to five hours he used to get by with before his 69 years caught up with him.
"I'm always keyed up," he says of his fitful nights. "My mind is racing all the time. I get so caught up in what's going on."
In the wee hours, he writes poems, songs and letters, reads, makes notes for the next day's agenda. He alternately sleeps and works. He even works while he sleeps, sitting upright in bed to jot down something he has thought of.
He rarely does one thing at once. He works over lunch in the office. He listens to books on CD while driving current choice: "The History of Economics." He reads memoranda and mail while exercising on the stationary bike or stair stepper each morning. He reads while walking to and from the gym.
"I don't waste a second," he says. "When I go, people will have to say, 'He made every second count.' "
There are times when he literally runs between meetings. No one can remember the last time he took a real vacation.
The bottom line is this: "He's got to be one of the most effective U.S. senators, because he works his butt off," says Dee Benson, Hatch's former chief of staff, now chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Utah. "He's in the middle of a lot of stuff. He loses some, but it's not for lack of trying. If you had to pick one Republican to blast something through, he's the only guy you want to sponsor it and get it done."
Perhaps no legislator during the last quarter century has been in the middle of more legislation than Hatch. (See box.)
All that drive and tenacity draw from a well of complex history growing up poor and wanting to prove himself and win acceptance; a deep, sincere belief that he was destined to lead and to do good in the world, and that he has a knack for both; and there's one thing more.There's Jesse.
In 1945, near the end of World War II, the Hatch family received the dreaded telegram from Europe that Jesse, their oldest boy, was missing in action. He was a nose gunner in a B-24, flying missions in Italy. He died during a famous bombing raid that destroyed Hitler's oil supplies.
Jesse was Orrin's hero, the only brother he had ever really known (a third boy died in infancy) among the family's nine children. Orrin idolized his brother, and the way he died surely cemented his legend in his little brother's mind.
Just weeks after the news arrived, a lock of Orrin's hair just above the middle of his forehead turned white. It would remain that way the rest of his life, though now it has been overtaken by gray.
"It absolutely turned white," says Marilyn, Hatch's older sister. "It happened almost overnight."
Orrin, who was almost 11 at the time, would go off by himself and throw up. His mother noticed that Orrin withdrew and tended to keep to himself. He was always a sensitive and serious boy, says Marilyn.
Four years later, Jesse's body was discovered in a graveyard in Austria. It was exhumed and reburied in Pittsburgh. "They found a few bones, some teeth, bits of cloth it was pretty pathetic," says Hatch.
To this day, Hatch has a picture of his brother in his home. Of the 192 single-spaced pages he has written so far in a new autobiography, more than half of them are about his brother. He has collected Jesse's letters that he sent home from the war and reconstructed much of his life. Hatch also has written at least one song about his brother "Someday I'll Fly (The Ballad of Jesse Morlan Hatch)" and another that memorializes his brother and other fallen soldiers "Morning Breaks on Arlington."
"His brother's death had a profound influence on him," says Benson. "It's motivated him in big ways ever since it happened."
Barney agrees. "His brother is a huge part of his life," she says. "He's always talking about him. I think he's living two lives one for his brother and one for him."
When the time came to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hatch determined that he would serve two missions simultaneously one for himself and one for his brother. He was sent to Ohio and did the work of two. There were only four members when he arrived; within a month there were 30. Young Hatch became the area's first branch president and first Relief Society president. He had no choice; the female members were too new to do it.
"I was good at it, too," he says. "I got them making aprons. There wasn't anyone else to fill the job."
Hatch hit the mission field like a tornado, placing more than 3,000 copies of the Book of Mormon, which means he gave at least that many first lessons to investigators and who knows how many second and third lessons. He hit the street early each morning and memorized scriptures which he had written on 3 x 5 cards while he walked to his appointments. Some weeks he delivered as many as 60 lessons.
"I drove my companions crazy," he recalls.
"His brother was a guiding light for him," says H. Brian Richards, one of Hatch's former missionary companions and now a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in the LDS Church. "He worked very hard and was very successful. He baptized wherever he went. He led the mission in hours spent proselytizing. He's always had the energy."
When Hatch finished his mission, his mission president told him, "You have literally fulfilled two missions."
Says Marilyn, "I ran into someone who served a mission (in Ohio) after Orrin and he said, 'All I ever heard about was the great Hatch. He was a legend.' "
"I decided I was going to fulfill a mission for my brother because he never got to," says Hatch. "I loved him. He was a good person. He always had a smile on his face. Everybody liked him. He would write and say if he was killed that he had an insurance policy. He had no qualms about giving his life for his country. I pray for him. He didn't have the privileges I have, like marriage and children. What a loss."
"It's been a lot of years, and Orrin still talks about Jess a lot," says Marilyn. "It was a terrible thing to go through."
In some ways, Hatch is still living as if he's doing it for two people. He has an appetite for work, but for that, he has another Jesse to thank.His father.
The street fighter
Hatch's childhood reads like the original only-in-America story. His parents, Jesse and Helen Hatch, lost their home during the Depression. Jesse borrowed $100 to buy an acre in the hills above Pittsburgh and built a house with the blackened lumber he salvaged from a burnt-out building. The house was blackened by the fire on three sides; the fourth side was a Meadow Gold Dairy sign. There was no indoor plumbing, but there was a mulberry tree in the back, and they planted a large garden, grapes and other trees and built a chicken coop. (It was Orrin's job to care for the chickens and sell eggs.)
Jesse and Helen, who had only junior high educations, were hard-working, industrious and devout. Jesse, who was also the branch president of the local Mormon church, labored long hard hours as a metal lather, then came home and did church work in the evening. Orrin, who planned to follow in his father's footsteps, was a lather for 10 years and became a member of the AFL-CIO.
"I could do it to this day," he says.
Hatch's humble clothes overalls, shoes that were too big made him a target of abuse. "We were poor; we had to fight for everything," Hatch remembers.
One day an older bully shoved him around the playground. "I was too scared to do anything; I was humiliated," he says. With what would become typical Hatch resolve, he found an old duffel bag, filled it with sand and hung it from the mulberry tree. He hit the bag for hours each day after school, determined he wouldn't be shoved around again. The next time he was threatened on the playground, he came away with a battered face but left his tormentor lying in the mud.
He had the same tenacity and determination on the basketball court. Like something straight out of Hollywood, he was cut from the seventh-grade basketball team. For the next year, he practiced on a dirt court behind his house, with a basket nailed to a tree. Hatch, tall, wiry and scrappy, went on to become captain of the varsity team, playing a brand of basketball in which he wasn't above knocking somebody to the court in the scramble for a ball. ("Some call it dirty," he says.)
In the years ahead, this would define Hatch, the insecure, thin-skinned, combative kid, out to prove himself. It came to a head during his freshman year at Brigham Young University when a football player grabbed him by the neck. The way Hatch tells it, they met later, away from the crowd, to settle things. Hatch hit his bigger opponent "10 to 15 times" in the face and left him unconscious.
"He couldn't get up and I had blood all over me and my eye was bleeding," he says. "That bothered me so badly. I worried for three days that I had killed him. I eventually saw him again and I was relieved he was all right. I vowed I never would get in a street fight again."
He fought 11 fights in the ring as an amateur boxer, but never fought on the street again.
Hatch, the first in his family to attend college, turned to law at BYU and was awarded a scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. To support his growing family three of his six kids would be born before he left law school he plastered the inside of the family's old chicken coop and converted it into a home for the next few years. While going to school, he also worked as a janitor, a lather and an all-night desk attendant in a dormitory, which is the only time he found time to do his homework.Elaine says those are still among their happiest years.
After signing on to be Hatch's partner in a law firm, Walt Plumb went to watch his friend in action one day. He saw Hatch perform in front of a jury, then went home and told his wife, "The golden goose is here."
Says Plumb, "I had never seen a guy better in front of a jury. He was tall, with this shiny, pure face, and the three women on the jury had tears running down their faces."
Hatch, by all accounts, was a masterful trial lawyer. Says Brent, Hatch's son and a practicing attorney himself in Salt Lake City, "One attorney told me, 'I could still do his closing arguments. He never left a jury that wasn't crying.' "
Hatch's political career was almost a whim and literally an 11th-hour decision. He vacillated for weeks. He had a thriving law practice that he wasn't eager to give up. He also had never run for political office, and here he was thinking about challenging three-term incumbent Democrat Frank Moss for the Senate.
Years earlier, as a student at BYU, he had seen Moss speak and was disturbed by his liberal views, which, he was convinced, did not represent Utah. "I felt he was completely out of step with Utah," says Hatch. "I was constantly moaning and groaning about it, and then one of my friends said, 'Why don't you run?' I was 42 by then, and the more I thought about it, I thought why should I stand on the sidelines? I knew I could win."
Coincidentally, at the time Hatch was riding a big winning streak in the courtroom and had settled enough cases to carry the firm through the rest of the year, which left him free to run for office. He filed for candidacy on the day of the deadline, five minutes before the office closed.
"That's how tough the decision was," he says. "When I walked out those doors, there were the TV cameras, and my legs went to rubber."
Exactly nobody thought Hatch could win, except Hatch himself. Moss had been Utah's senator for 18 years.
"It wasn't just that he had to beat a strong incumbent," says Plumb. "The Republican primary was tough, too. My mother was Moss' administrative assistant and she told me, 'Hatch doesn't have a prayer.' "
Hatch won, of course, and one of his favorite arguments during his campaign was that Moss had been in Washington long enough and it was time to let someone else have the office. Little did he realize that he would serve 27 years (so far), outlasting Moss by nine years and counting.
How much longer will he run for office? "As long as I think I'm doing it well," he says. "I can do so much for our state and for our country."
Hatch, say those close to him, suffers from a messiah complex. Says one of them, "He believes he's the one who has to get it done or solve the problem or it won't get done. He thinks he is it. I know that. He's not aware of it. For something to get done he has to do it. It's 'I have to have the ball or we're not going to score.' But I doubt there's a senator in the last 25 years who has gotten more done than him."
Hatch says there's a simple reason for his involvement in so much legislation: Everybody comes to him with their bills and their problems because they know he's the man to get things done.
"I know I've been given a privilege few are given," says Hatch. "There's no question that God has helped me throughout my life, and I don't want to let Him down. My faith teaches me that we should give back in this life. I do the best I can. Am I perfect? Heavens no, but I sure work at it. The Senate is a lot of work, but I feel really good about it. I feel like I'm doing what's right. I feel like I have made, and can make, a difference. Nobody can outwork me."
Hatch was actually making considerably more money as an attorney in 1976 than he makes as a senator today. The truth is this: Hatch considers his political career his destiny, almost a religious calling foreshadowed for him in a patriarchal blessing, something that many faithful Latter-day Saints receive from a church patriarch to help guide their life.
In his book, "Higher Laws," Hatch writes, "When I was 12 years old, my parents took me to an old farmer-patriarch in the little town of Smithfield, Utah, for a patriarchal blessing. I was the son of a skilled laborer and knew nothing about government, the Constitution, or any other political matters. As a young boy, my only goals were to become a builder like my father (which I later came to be) and to become a good athlete. I had no other ideas about the future. The prophetic blessing the old patriarch gave me was simple yet profound."Patriarchal blessings are extremely personal, so I will not share much of it, but you will be interested in just two sentences in the middle of the blessing: 'Thou shalt be privileged to mingle with people of many types of character and learning, and shalt have contacts with men and women of educational attainments, and holding high and responsible positions of leadership among the people. These contacts will help thee to ripen in wisdom and judgment.' "
Sack lunches and songs
Who is Orrin Hatch? "Every time you think you've got him figured, he changes your mind," says Barney.
After talking to acquaintances, this is what you learn: He's talented, intelligent and passionate. He's perceived as egotistical, but most of it still springs from the insecurity of his youth, the poor lather's son trying to win acceptance and prove himself. He can be shrill, overwrought, and a bit stiff and uptight, but at other times remarkably eloquent, witty and personable. He's deep; he's shallow. He's sensible and sharp, he's embarrassing.
He's frugal, but he's a clotheshorse and he has spent freely to purchase artwork. Several times he has been named one of Washington's best dressers, including a recent mention in Washingtonian Magazine, which dubbed him as one of Washington's best-dressed Republicans "nice shoes, great shirts and handsome suits." His office in Utah looks like an art museum, with large original paintings covering all of the walls, including a mural of the senator himself, briefcase in hand, staring at his grandfather's grave.
Throughout most of her husband's career, Elaine has packed him a sack lunch, with leftovers in baggies and Tupperware containers, so he can eat at the office.
He has a lot of friends but not many close friends.
His favorite restaurant is no kidding Chuck-a-Rama. Every time he passes through Utah, he stops at one of those restaurants. "I don't know if it is because he didn't have a lot of food on the table as a kid or what, but he loves that buffet," says Barney.
Acquaintances say he doesn't ever really relax or have fun. Barney says the only vacation he has taken in the last decade was when he spent a few days traveling to visit his children.
He's something of a religious scholar who has served as a Sunday school teacher for years in his church and can stand in front of a class and talk non-stop for the entire hour without taking questions or looking at notes, quoting scripture from memory.
He's a prolific reader, usually early in the morning and late at night. He's reading C.S. Lewis. He's reading a book about the Constitution. He reads tomes on history and religion. For years he read the Bible and Book of Mormon annually.
He's a name-dropper and devotee of the jock set. He numbers among his friends Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jerry Sloan, LaVell Edwards, Rick Majerus, Ladell Andersen and Muhammad Ali, who actually had dinner at his parents' Utah home years ago. ("My mother must have fed him three chickens," recalls Hatch. "He loved it. He was so gracious.") The celebrity-athletes seem to return his admiration and respect. Ali, Malone and others have been known to call him.
He is a prolific letter writer. He writes to Utah's famous athletes and coaches, offering support and encouragement. "These athletes represent our state," he says.
But he also writes to offer advice and support to people he learns about through the media who are having problems marriage, church, finances, tragedy.
"The one thing people don't know is how much time he spends on individual people's problems," says Brent. "A lot of people write him personal letters mothers concerned about their wayward son, for instance. Some might send out a form letter. I've seen him stay up late handwriting a letter to one of these mothers. He spent hours on it."
If there is any relief in Hatch's life, Benson believes it is provided by his songwriting career, which has blossomed from a hobby into a side career, a Web site and endless publicity.
"I think one reason he pursued hobbies like music and writing is because it's something he can do at the office," says Benson. "Nobody can work all those hours. He needs some diversion. But he wouldn't be comfortable being home. He's a very dedicated guy."
Hatch writes songs at the office, he writes on plane flights, he even writes on the Senate floor. "I faxed four songs to Nashville yesterday," he says. He estimates that he has written 600 songs/poems and enough have been produced to fill nine CDs.
"I have these really lovely thoughts all the time," he once said. "I write things to help people."Comment on this story
He especially likes writing songs for friends. He has written songs for his friend Sen. Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki. He wrote a song for Ali. One of his songs "Little Angel of Mine" was used in a Stuart Little movie. He has teamed with the Osmonds and Janice Kapp Perry and several other songwriters and producers in making CDs. It was Perry, a Mormon songwriter, who started Hatch's music career. (She told him she had heard that he wrote poetry and suggested he send her some of his work to be turned into songs.)Songwriting is the great joy in his life these days. Step into his office, and he can't wait to tell you about it and play some of his CDs for you. This is what he refers to as his "soft side," but always there is that other side calling him back. He confesses, "I'm worn out all the time," but he still shows up at the office before everyone else each day ready to do battle, to do good, to right wrongs, to work hard, to make a difference in the world.