Utah's longest-serving governor, Calvin Rampton, dead at age 93

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

In a photo dated May, 2004, Olene Walker gives Calvin Rampton a hug as he is honored with Highland Cove Retirement Community's distinguished service award.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Calvin L. Rampton, 93, Utah's 11th and longest-serving governor ever, died Sunday. Funeral services are planned Friday at 11 a.m. at the Salt Lake Parleys LDS Stake Center, 1870 E. Parleys Canyon Blvd.

On Aug. 8 he suffered a stroke and earlier had been diagnosed with cancer. He was in hospice care, where family joined him Sunday after being alerted to his failing condition, said daughter Janet Warburton. Son Tony Rampton added, "This was not a shock and he passed away peacefully and without pain," he said today. "We were all there."

Son Vince Rampton said his father was in and out of conscicousness during the afternoon and passed away a little after 6 p.m. "He gave a little smile and stopped breathing."

To a generation of Utahns, Mr. Rampton was simply "the governor," because of his 12 years in office.

Mr. Rampton served as governor from 1965 to 1977, winning three four-year terms. By many accounts, he brought Utah's government into the modern fiscal era, initiating the first major bonding/building program in the state's history and restructuring government for the first time since statehood. Much of the University of Utah's "new" campus, as well as other public higher education campuses, were constructed through his efforts. He started "Rampton's Raiders," a group of volunteer businessmen who traveled the United States drumming up economic and tourist interest in Utah.

But what most people will likely remember about Rampton was his slow-talking, congenial style. While most called him governor to his face — even after he left office — they referred to him as simply Cal when talking outside his presence. He was rarely seen in public as angry or even perturbed.

A Bountiful native, Rampton retired from government service in 1977, returning to a private law practice.

Having ended his public career still loved by most Utahns, one wouldn't believe Rampton's political beginnings. He was rejected for office time after time. He lost three races for the state Senate, a race for state Democratic Party chairmanship and one that would have made him the Democratic national committeeman from Utah. He lost the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 1962. In fact, he lost so many races in so short a span that some wondered what he was thinking when he got in the 1964 governor's race.

But it was a landslide Democratic year. Lyndon Johnson took Utah on his way to the presidency, the only time in the past 40 years that a Democratic presidential candidate carried Utah, and Rampton swung into office.

He ran on a pledge to change Utah government, and he didn't wait long. He proposed an ambitious bonding program of $67 million — an outlandish amount in the mid-1960s considering that 30 years later the Legislature is arguing over $100 million bonds.

He put together what came to be called the Little Hoover Commission, which recommended vast restructuring of state government, the first such effort since statehood in 1896. In 1964, more than 150 state agencies reported directly to the governor. Little Hoover recommended the 150 be bunched up into 10 departments, and Rampton pushed the change through a special legislative session.

After eight years in office, many wondered if Rampton would break precedent and run for a third term. To the surprise of many, he decided to do just that. Even though Utah was beginning a hard swing toward Republicanism, Rampton won re-election in 1972 by his largest margin ever, even though then-President Richard Nixon, a Republican, took Utah in a landslide.

Later, Rampton was to say the last term probably was a mistake, that it cost his family too dearly. His wife, Lucybeth, suffered from clinical depression in 1974 and later Rampton said he'd lost some of the drive needed to conduct state business at the highest level.

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