Orton remembered as 'noble public servant'

Published: Saturday, April 25 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jacquelyn Orton, center, with her sons, Will, left, and Wesley, gather with family and friends as they follow the casket to the hearse after the funeral of their husband and father, former U.S. Congressman Bill Orton, in Salt Lake City Friday. Orton died in an ATV accident April 18. He was 60.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Former Utah Congressman Bill Orton was remembered Friday as an independent-minded public servant who most loved being a father to his two young sons.

Services were held Friday for Orton, 60, who died last weekend in an all-terrain vehicle accident at the Little Sahara Sand Dunes in Juab County.

His three terms as a Democratic representative from the state's conservative 3rd District beginning in 1991 were celebrated for what KSL radio personality Doug Wright described as Orton's moderation and stubbornness.

Wright told of how a former Orton aide had to bring his boss all five volumes of the federal budget so the congressman, a tax attorney, could read every line himself before coming up with his own government spending plan.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, called Orton "a noble public servant" who leaves behind a legacy of service. "He transcended merely the political," the governor said, citing "his life of action, his life of passion, his life of intelligence, his life of commitment and his life of service."

But Huntsman said Orton knew how to be political, too. During the 2004 governor's race, Huntsman said Orton posted a sign in his Federal Heights front yard for the Democratic candidate, Scott Matheson Jr. At his office, though, Orton had a sign for GOP candidate — Huntsman.

Orton's family life was especially highlighted. He was married later in life to a lobbyist, Jacquelyn, and had two sons, Will and Wesley. Orton would have called becoming a father "the crowning moment of his life," his friend and neighbor Kathryn Knight said.

Knight spoke of the moments Orton shared with his sons — proudly taking Will onto the House floor as an infant, attending Wesley's baseball games, watching Will perform in a school play. "Bill was a hands-on father," Knight said.

Orton's uncle, Doyle Olsen, told the hundreds of political leaders, family and friends gathered at the Ortons' Federal Heights Ward meetinghouse for the service, about Orton as a sensitive child who "cried and cried and cried and could not be consoled" when he accidentally flushed a tiny rubber doll down a toilet.

The young Orton had many chores at his parents' North Ogden home, Olsen said, including milking cows twice a day. He found time to treat his sisters like princesses, even picking one up from school in his shiny black Thunderbird to, Olsen said, boost her "cool" rating.

The uncle also described how Orton broke the rules as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to hear a speech by the late Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.

Orton thought he would get away with straying from his district, but Olsen said, "his picture appeared in the paper the next morning, shaking hands with Robert Kennedy."

Among the guests at the funeral was Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who now holds Orton's seat. Chaffetz said he was a Brigham Young University student when he first saw Orton, shaking hands at a parade. "That's the way you should do it," Chaffetz said he remembered thinking at the time.

The only Democratic member of Utah's current congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson, also attended the service. Matheson said he talked with Orton before getting into the race. "His advice was exactly what you'd expect it to be," Matheson said. "Be yourself … and don't get caught up in the politics."

The street leading up to the ward house was lined with American flags, and Huntsman had ordered flags above state buildings flown at half-staff Friday. Orton's flag-draped casket was escorted by the Utah Highway Patrol to the Ben Lomond Cemetery in North Ogden, where he was interred.

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com

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