1 of 8
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Jazz employees prepare a flower bed at the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City Wednesday. The Jazz paid tribute to the late Larry H. Miller and celebrated his contributions to the community by participating in a service project on behalf of the homeless. Utah-based employees from the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies joined Jazz staff members in their efforts to honor the team?s former owner.

SALT LAKE CITY — Larry, we think, would have been pleased.

Larry H. Miller companies on Wednesday honored the late businessman/Jazz owner in a big way.

Carrying on the tradition of their former boss, who spent his life with his shoulder to the wheel, about 180 employees of companies started by Miller spent Wednesday morning cleaning, painting and otherwise sprucing up the area's three main emergency shelters and low-income housing sites.

That afternoon, he was honored at a private luncheon with folks from the community who worked closely with him over the years.

And Wednesday night during halftime of the Jazz-Suns basketball game, his jersey — No. 9, from Miller's softball-playing days — was raised to the rafters of EnergySolutions Arena and retired.

Before his death in February 2009 from complications related to type 2 diabetes, Miller changed the skyline and raised the profile of the community. The former mechanic built a plexus of auto dealerships from here to Spokane and rescued a flagging professional basketball franchise that linked jazz and a desert — which, he remarked years ago, was no weirder than having Lakers in dry old Los Angeles.

Surrounding it all, he built a network of restaurants, movie theaters and entertainment venues that promoted his personal philosophy: "Have a little fun, make a little money, and take care of the customer."

Miller employees who worked Wednesday morning on service projects around the Salt Lake Valley said they were energized thinking about their old boss.

"This is just our chance to help Larry keep giving back to the community," said Cyndi Brown, after putting three hours of elbow grease into cleaning the apartments and doing laundry at Palmer Court in downtown Salt Lake City.

Peggy Deming, a co-worker from KJZZ who helped with the morning's efforts, said she couldn't think of a better way to honor the man who set the standard, both as a boss and champion of the community he loved, and who was the opposite of the old saying that when it's all said and done, there's always more said than done.

"He set a standard of taking care of things," she said, "and taking care of those who couldn't take care of themselves," and without judgment of their circumstances. "We're just trying to pay that forward."

"Wherever he is, I think he had a hand in this today," said Clark Whitworth, an auto dealership executive for nearly 24 years, after spending a good share of the morning on his hands and knees putting a fresh coat of fire-engine-red paint on the curb that rings the Palmer Court campus.

"Does it look that bad?" he asked in response to an assertion that his crew's work might well be the most noticeable change at the mid-town apartment complex that is home to 275 individuals — including 57 families — who until recently didn't have a place to call home.

Applying paint with 2-inch- or 1-inch-wide rollers gives a person an up-close perspective of a place that Whitworth said he appreciated getting.

"These are the guys who really did the work," he said, applying Miller's practice of deflecting any hint of praise to co-workers.

"Definitely," he said, when asked if he would be back next year to spring clean the place. "This is the first time, but this is the first annual," he said as he headed off for the rest of the day's work. "It's a good day already."

And how's spring looking for car dealers? All blue sky?

"We've been like this for two years," he said, making an up and down motion with his hand. "Now, we're this way," he said, turning it up toward the ceiling as he headed out the door.

That's the same direction that the three hours of manual labor provided to Palmer Court, The Road Home in downtown and its winter overflow shelter in Murray.

They washed windows, cleaned and moved furniture, cleaned nooks, mopped everything to the floorboards, power-washed Dumpster areas, painted everything they were pointed at, raked flower beds and made a general use of themselves the likes of which veteran building and property maintenance guys Matthew Britt and Brian Bockoven rarely, if ever, have seen.

"Whatever the reason, I couldn't believe how hard they worked," Britt said. "There was no standing around or taking breaks."

"They've helped us so much and saved us so much time," Bockoven said. "It would have taken us months to do all they did. It was a pretty great thing they did here today."

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com