Mitchell Melich, who served as acting U.S. secretary of Interior under President Nixon and once ran for governor of Utah, has died at age 87.

Mr. Melich died Saturday as a result of chronic heart disease.He was born to Serbian parents on Feb. 1, 1912, in Bingham Canyon. He worked as a child to help support his family after his father died and paid his way through the University of Utah by working in the Utah Copper Pit, now Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine.

He earned a law degree and became one of the first attorneys to practice in Grand County, where he served as both Moab city attorney and Grand County attorney. In private practice, he developed an interest in the uranium industry as a result of representing uranium millionaire Charlie Steen.

In 1954, Mr. Melich began an eight-year stint as president and director of the Uranium Reduction Co., one of the world's largest uranium processing mills.

He ran for Utah governor on the Republican ticket in 1964, but was defeated by Gov. Calvin L. Rampton. It was not his first foray into state politics; Mr. Melich had served as a state senator from 1942 to 1950, state Senate majority leader in 1949 and state Senate minority whip in 1947. He was a delegate to two GOP national conventions.

During the Nixon administration, Mr. Melich was named solicitor for Secretary of Interior Walter J. Hinckel. When the president fired a number of high-ranking appointees, including Hinckel, Mr. Melich was named acting secretary.

In 1973, he returned to Utah and became a partner at the law firm Ray, Quinney & Nebeker, retiring in 1996.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, four children and seven grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending through Evans & Early, Salt Lake City.