Editor's note: This profile of Sen. Orrin Hatch is part of a Deseret News series on the front-runners of possible U.S. Senate candidates as the curtain rises on the 1994 campaign.
Ever more hidden by his graying hair is a sign of the exact moment that shattered and then shaped the life of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.It is a long streak of white hair a few inches above his forehead. It appeared the night that 11-year-old Orrin was told his brother was shot down in Italy in World War II.
"It was a terrible shock. I idolized my brother," Hatch says. "That streak of white hair ap
peared overnight and was very noticeable until the rest of my hair started turning gray."
Sorrow over his brother's death left a streak on Hatch's soul, too. Those who know him best say it drove him to try to pack the work and accomplishments of two lives into one - one for his brother and one for him. And it taught him life can be short.
The resulting drive and urgency is central to why Hatch says he will seek a fourth Senate term. "I am making a difference here. With (Bill) Clinton in office, it is the wrong time to leave. I am not a quitter. I couldn't live with myself if I was."
No one who knows Hatch well says he is a quitter.
They do say he is a workaholic perfectionist - a basketball player who became team captain; a student who became student body president; a missionary who worked overtime; a construction worker whose trademark was a perfect job; a lawyer who almost always won; a political unknown who became a senator; a senator who prefers to fight for lost causes and underdogs.
More than anything, they talk about how seriously he takes himself and life - which was a trademark since he was a child.
"That's my favorite picture. He's smiling in that one," says Hatch's 87-year-old mother, Helen. She only has one picture of him as a child where he actually smiled - but she and others say he has a great sense of humor that the public too rarely sees.
"Even though I love him and he is my son, he was probably the strangest child I ever saw because he was so serious," she said about her sixth of nine children, and the only one of three sons to live beyond early adulthood.
For example, when Hatch was 5 and his mother was ordered to stay in bed after giving birth to a daughter, "he walked in with some of his things folded up in a handkerchief and said he was going to run away because his sisters teased him too much.
"The lady who was staying with me said not to worry, that boys always say that but don't do it. I said, `You don't know Orrin.' Sure enough, he ran away," Helen Hatch says. He was later found sleeping in a barrel of chicken feed to keep warm.
While most 8-year-olds in families belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are anxious to be baptized, Helen Hatch said Orrin worried instead. "Before he was baptized, he said, `What if I sin again?' We had to talk and reassure him. He took it very seriously."
Once he took money that he had saved to buy candy with other children. Instead, he bought his mother a ring with a glass, fake diamond. "He said now I could be like all the other mothers. I didn't have an engagement ring," Helen Hatch said.
She said Orrin was also very accident prone. "He was always breaking arms and legs," and some wondered "if the devil was trying hard to get him" - and made some around him believe he had a special purpose in life, she said.
Poor in cash, rich in service
Orrin grew up in a poorer home in Pittsburgh - where his father had traveled from Utah seeking construction work. His parents lost a nice home when the Great Depression struck. His father then bought some wooded acreage and built a new home himself with used materials from a building that had burned.
"I grew up thinking all homes were black on the inside," Hatch said. "We didn't even have indoor facilities in the early years. . . . We even had a Pillsbury flour sign on the house. I'm not sure where my father got all the wood."
The family also considered themselves Democrats then. "We were union people and greatly revered President (Franklin) Roosevelt and what he tried to do for working people," Helen Hatch said.
The home also served as a gathering place for members of the LDS Church in the area. "I can't tell you how many times I slept on the floor so missionaries could have my bed," Orrin Hatch said.
Hatch's father was also known for helping to build many of the neighbors' houses without pay and for sharing out of the family's large vegetable garden with those who had less.
Several acquaintances say Orrin Hatch continued that tradition by quietly helping the needy, paying for missionaries, providing free legal help and paying the taxes on his mother's Midvale home. Hatch himself never talks about that publicly.
Two shaping events
Two key events helped add to his already serious and sacrificing nature. The most shattering was the news that his bother was shot down.
"We didn't know for a long time whether he was alive or dead. I always believed he was alive," Helen Hatch said. "Some yellow roses arrived from him on Mother's Day a couple of months after he was shot down. I guess he arranged for them before his last mission."
She said finally a church patriarch - who gives what LDS Church members feel are divinely inspired blessings to help guide their lives - told them her son had been called "to the other side of the veil." About the same time, she said the patriarch gave young Orrin "a wonderful blessing. . . . He told him he would be a leader of men."
Hatch said when his brother's body was recovered and returned, "we went through the pain all over again." Hatch said he often went to his brother's grave throughout his teenage years to pray and think.
A cheerier event that helped shape Hatch's life was the arrival of Vernon Law - who would become a star baseball pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I got to know the Hatches when I started attending church in Pittsburgh. Later when my family got older (and couldn't easily travel to Pittsburgh), I lived with the Hatches during the season. Living with a family made all the difference. They were my greatest fans," Law remembers.
The teenage Hatch idolized him and followed him to games and many of the speeches that Law gave to numerous churches in the area. He also often played Law in basketball, and his wife in tennis - and Hatch said she became like another sister to him.
Law said, "Professional ball players often have the opportunity to endorse products - but my teammates got those. I got all the churches. They didn't pay money. But while money from those endorsements was spent and forgotten long ago, I will never forget my experiences at those churches. And Orrin was with me at many of those."
Helen Hatch says, "I think being around Vernon made Orrin believe he could be somebody and made him want to."
Law remembers the teenage (and adult) Hatch was "so competitive he wouldn't want to lose a spitting contest to you" - which may be why he was captain of his high school basketball team, class president and student body president.
It carried over into his LDS Church mission. William Nixon, who like Hatch was a traveling teaching missionary in the Great Lakes Mission, said Hatch always had to work harder than anyone else and had to be more exacting in keeping mission rules. "He was driven," Nixon said.
Hatch said he told his mission president why. "I was serving two missions - one for me, and one for my (dead) brother." His mother said he worked so hard he ruined his health, and Hatch said he had terrible headaches for much of his mission.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert remembers when he left on an LDS mission, the president of the old Salt Lake Mission Home told of a great missionary named Orrin Hatch.
Herbert was later sent to Pittsburgh, "and it was great to see this Orrin Hatch, who was a young lawyer then." He added, "He still bent over backward for us and did everything he could to help us and the people we taught. He also put on seminars for missionaries" - which he still does as a senator in Washington.
Hatch lived in Utah for the first time to attend Brigham Young University. His old missionary service soon led him to become its summer student body president. He remembers a man whom he had blessed to overcome illness surprisingly stood and nominated "Elder Hatch" for president. "I agreed to run only because I thought I would lose. But I won."
Hatch, who had married while at BYU, returned to the University of Pittsburgh to attend law school. But tight finances forced him to live in a converted chicken coop behind his parents' house.
He also worked with his father in construction doing metal lath work (a foundation for plaster) to make ends meet - and was a member of the AFL-CIO labor union, which would later despise him when he was chairman of the Senate Labor Committee.
"When people walked into a room, they said they could always tell when Orrin did the work because it was perfect," Helen Hatch says. Orrin says about that time, he began the switch to become a Republican, feeling unions and the Democratic party had changed and didn't seek the best interests of workers.
Eventually, he finished law school and later moved to Utah because he wanted his six children to grow up in the environment there.
Patron saint of underdogs
Walt Plumb, Hatch's old Utah law partner, said Hatch had amazing drive. "I think in about a year and a half, he tried 30 or 40 cases and won them all except one $5,000 case," he said. "Trying eight or 10 cases would have been a lot."
Plumb said Hatch also tried cases in a wide range of areas from tax fraud to personal injuries to contract disputes. But more than anything, he loved fighting for underdogs.
"He had a ton of pro bono (free) cases. He always had a cause. I don't mean one or two - I mean tons. He ways always fighting for underdogs and lost causes, like the little union member."
Then Hatch decided to take on the greatest lost cause of his life - running for the U.S. Senate in 1976, even though four other well-known Republicans were in the race, and he was an unknown.
"I didn't think any of them could beat (three-term incumbent Sen. Frank) Moss (D-Utah), and I couldn't bear the thought of him in office for another six years. He was a liberal and didn't really represent Utah," Hatch said.
Helen Hatch said the family tried to talk him out of it. Hatch said politicians tried to talk him out of it - and even offered him the nomination for a U.S. House race instead. But he ran.
His old friend William Nixon and his wife, Carol (who considered running for Congress), remember, "We were flabbergasted when we heard. He had never given any hint he would do anything like that," William said - but they joined in to help.
Carol Nixon, who had worked for two Idaho senators, was a campaign office manager. "I remember whenever he talked some-where, the calls would just pour in from people who wanted to help. It was amazing. He could set them on fire."
Besides fiery speeches, Hatch tried the impossible - he asked the popular Ronald Reagan to endorse him in the primary election. National politicians rarely endorse anyone until after a primary, but Reagan did because of early support Hatch gave that year in Reagan's failed bid for president. Hatch won the nomination and the race.
Bud Scruggs, a political science professor at BYU who was an aide and a campaign manager for Hatch, said, "Orrin is still the type of guy who every morning says he wants to make the most out of being in the U.S. Senate and every night worries he hasn't done enough."
He adds that Hatch is still "the patron saint of lost causes. The worse the odds, the more he is attracted to it" - from defending Supreme Court nominees like Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork and Iran-Contra figures like Oliver North.
That trait, plus gravitating toward celebrities and a strong faith in people, has caused problems for Hatch - such as when he became mired for years in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International scandal because celebrities and friends talked him into giving a speech defending the scandal-closed bank.
"He has learned that sometimes when someone is persecuted by the federal government, it's because they deserve it. But that's been a hard lesson for him," Scruggs said.
Scruggs said Utahns also wonder whether publicity about Hatch's friendships with liberals such as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., means Hatch is softening up toward liberal causes.
"He just loves people and trusts them. For him it's natural to fight Ted Kennedy's politics but love him, no matter what," Scruggs said.
Why does Hatch seem to gravitate toward celebrities from Mohammed Ali to Elizabeth Taylor? "He's like a kid who just hit a home run and wants to share the excitement," Scruggs said. "He can do that by bringing a Mohammed Ali home."
He did that once - literally - when he took Ali for a home-cooked meal at his parents' middle-class home in Midvale. "All the neighbors started showing up with cameras," Helen Hatch said. "Orrin and Mohammed posed with everyone." Still Scruggs insists Hatch is uncompromising when it comes to policy. "He's very coachable on strategy. But I learned early on that if you try to coach him on policy, you'll get an earful. He does his homework and knows his issues inside and out."
Hatch said he could make more money, have more time with his family and have a less stressful life if he did not return to the Senate. "If I didn't believe in what I do, I wouldn't do it for 10 seconds."
He says he is coming off two tough years that finally saw him cleared of all wrongdoing in the BCCI scandal. "They don't care whose reputation they smear. I would have quit a long time ago - but I don't have a quitter's attitude. I believe you have to hang in there."
Scruggs said that attitude never left since that white streak of hair appeared on Hatch's head. "He really believes he has to make a difference."