SALT LAKE CITY — Some gulped back tears while others doubled over in laughter as they paid tribute to Randy Horiuchi, a former Salt Lake County councilman and Utah Democratic Party leader.
But long-time friend and fellow Councilman Mike Jensen donned a hazardous materials suit to honor Horiuchi at his memorial service at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center Friday evening.
Horiuchi had a penchant for hyperbole and the unconventional, showing up at press conferences in hip waders, using toilets as props and on one occasion, wearing a full-on hazmat suit.
"Who else could pull it off but Randy? Who else would think of it except Randy?" said Jensen.
Horiuchi died Nov. 19 at age 61.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said conducting the public memorial service at the convention center was a fitting tribute to Horiuchi, who "begged, bargained and traded to obtain the support to expand and turn this Salt Palace into what it is today."
While Horiuchi has been described as "the life of the Democratic Party," serving as state chairman from 1985 to 1989, the memorial was a bipartisan affair also attended by Republican leaders of the Utah Legislature.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he met Horiuchi when he and Craig Moody, then chairman of Utah Republican Party, spoke at a luncheon in Utah County.
"It was my first foray into politics. I had decided to run for Orem City Council. I thought, 'Hey, I need a boost here. Here's two movers and shakers in the parties. Maybe I could get their endorsement.' And I did. Thanks to Randy's endorsement, I only lost by 36 votes," Herbert joked.
While Horiuchi was adroit at making friends across the political spectrum, former state lawmaker Blaze Wharton, who worked in Democratic party politics with Horiuchi for many years, said he was a brilliant political strategist who cultivated young talent and launched many political careers.
At the start of Horiuchi's term as chairman of the state Democratic Party, no Democrats held statewide office, there were 14 Democrats in the Utah House of Representative and five in the Utah Senate.
"In 1989, Randy took us from 14 in the House to 30 Democrats in the House. We went from five Democrats in the Senate to 10. We elected a Salt Lake County commissioner. We had two congressmen and the attorney general. Randy Horiuchi did that," Wharton said.
It was no fluke.
"He was intelligent. He knew politics. He knew how to put people together," Wharton said.
Another longtime friend, developer Kem Gardner, said no one had been more successful as Horiuchi at getting things done, whether it was moving mountains politically or his work with nonprofit organizations.
Horiuchi, though, always said his greatest and proudest accomplishment was his daughter Madeline, Gardner said.
This past Christmas was difficult because Horiuchi, a diehard Dodgers fan, would give Gardner signed baseballs and bobble head figures of Major League Baseball players as gifts.
"How I miss him. We sat so many times at the Grill at the Alta Club in front of the fireplace where all the great, legendary Democrats sat, and we would talk baseball and politics. Now I can't even bear to enter the room," he said.
As a tribute to Horiuchi's long public service, which included 22 years on the Salt Lake County Council and former Salt Lake County Commission, County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson announced that the county's new public works facility at approximately 6900 S. 300 West will be named in Horiuchi's honor.
"They're his people, the men and women of public works, who along with other people already mentioned, the people he cared so much about," Wilson said.3 comments on this story
The county's public safety arm also paid tribute to Horiuchi, with the Unified Fire Authority Honor Guard and Pipe and Drum Corp conducting the opening flag presentation and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and honor guards of the Unified Police Department performing the closing ceremony, after which Winder presented a folded American flag to Horiuchi's spouse Fran and their daughter Madeline.
Madeline Horiuchi said her father taught her to "help everybody, no matter what, to be really generous."
He also told her to do what makes her happy in her life, she said.
"He told me whenever I was happy, he was happy."