Earl Holding remembered as a visionary

Published: Saturday, April 27 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

Family and friends of Robert Earl Holding leave the church after his funeral in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 27, 2013. Holding, an entrepreneur who made his first fortune in the 1950s running a 24-hour service station in an otherwise desolate stretch of Wyoming and became a billionaire whose assets included oil refineries and ski resorts, among them Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, died on April 19th.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Earl Holding was remembered Saturday as a visionary and hard-working builder of empires whose passion for detail and integrity transformed the lives around him.

Holding, who forged a multibillion-dollar empire from a humble start and is credited with helping lure the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, died April 19 at age 86.

Beyond his success as the owner of Sinclair Oil, the Grand America and the Little America hotels, Holding was foremost a dedicated husband whose love for his wife, Carol, never dimmed through 64 years of marriage.

Holding was eulogized Saturday during a service at the Federal Heights LDS Ward attended by West High School classmate and friend, President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Three of his grandchildren told heartfelt stories of Holding that brought tears as well as smiles.

Meagan Matthews said her grandfather liked to spoil her two dogs with hot dog treats, "something they'd never get at home," and when she brought one of the dogs, Simon, to his hospital bed, his eyes lit up.

Holding had struggled after a stroke in 2002 left him paralyzed but he fought through recovery to become well enough to continue to run his businesses.

Jennie Peterson, another granddaughter, said the grandchildren always called him by his first name.

"He preferred Earl to grandpa because that kept him young."

Peterson talked of how the grandchildren had to earn their spurs and his respect by working, and working hard, following the example he laid out for them through the years.

"He served as a reminder that the American dream is alive and well," she said.

Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.'s director of resorts and resort developments, said he first met Holding as an employee at the Sun Valley resort and subsequently learned Holding was going to buy it.

Under Holding's ownership, the then-struggling resort began to make a profit and flourish. Huffman said the success was no accident, but a testament to Holding's elbow-grease style of management.

"He did every job right along with us," whether it be bussing tables, cleaning rooms or working the grounds.

That meticulous devotion to detail would later show up in the grandeur of Holding's flagship hotel, the Grand America, forged from granite he personally inspected and had shipped from Vermont.

Long-time business associate and friend Ray Adam regaled mourners with stories of Holding's high-pressure business deals, jet-setting trips over the Middle East to inspect oil refineries and attending the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo.

Adam said after years had gone by, he often pressed his friend to slow down even though he himself had flunked retirement several times.

"We were Depression kids … we were forged by the Great Depression and World War II," he said. "He was smelling the daisies when he and Carol were working. That was his fun."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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