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Influential author Stephen R. Covey remembered as 'Papa' who put family first

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 7:54 p.m. MDT

Friends and family gather after the funeral for Stephen Covey at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University in Orem on Saturday, July 21, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

OREM — Stephen R. Covey was a man who most of the world will remember as an influential speaker and best selling author.

But to his family, he was simply known as "Papa," a man who put his family and faith above all else.

Funeral services were held Saturday for Covey at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University. The 79-year-old author died July 16 due to complications from a bicycling accident in April.

Covey was once named one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans and he authored a number of books focused on leadership. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages. Covey also founded the Covey Leadership Center, which merged with Franklin Quest in 1997 to form FranklinCovey Co., a company focused on leadership, strategy and individual effectiveness.

But as his children recalled Saturday, Covey would often remind them that "family is more important than the company."

Covey's funeral on Saturday was open to the public, but was in many ways a family affair with his nine children, 52 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren present and most having roles in the proceedings. A large family portrait — including all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren — flanked one side of Covey's coffin, while a picture of Covey and his wife of nearly 56 years, Sandra, was placed on the other.

Covey's nine children took turns giving two memories each of their father as a special tribute to him while their mother sat front and center in the audience. Many recalled their favorite memories were the times they got to spend one-on-one with their dad.

"As good as he was in public … he was even better in private as a husband and father," said his son Stephen M.R. Covey.

"Dad was so good at making each of us feel special," added son Sean Covey.

Catherine Covey recalled the time when she was in junior high school and at her request, her father took her to see "Star Wars," even though he didn't like movies like that.

"He came because he knew how much it meant to me," she said.

The siblings remembered "Honda rides," or the times they would get one-on-one time with their father by taking ATV rides in the mountains with him.

"Dad's greatest joy was his family," said daughter Colleen Covey Brown.

After his children grew up and moved out of the house, he would write them long letters or send them audio tapes, reminding them that they were part of a "marvelous generational family" and he wanted to preserve that. A big priority for Covey was keeping his family together.

On Covey's final day, at the hospital in Idaho Falls where he was being cared for, his five daughters and four sons talked about how one of their prayers was answered when he opened his eyes and was alert for his final hour of life as each took turns personally saying goodbye. In one of the ceremony's most touching moments, Joshua Covey recalled how his last words to his father were telling him how he wanted to be just like him, full of initiative, character and love, and to live a life full of service and contribution.

Many said the reason for Stephen Covey's success was his unwavering faith in his LDS beliefs and how he "unashamedly" would bear his testimony to anyone, anytime, any place. Colleen Covey Brown remembered how her father would tell her that if she put the Savior as the center of her life, everything else would fall into place.

Covey influenced tens of millions of people and thousands of organizations, his family said. But he was both "surprised and embarrassed" at times by his professional accomplishments.

It wasn't just his own family that he made feel special, but it was seemingly anyone he came in contact with.

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