Mitchell Melich passed peacefully from this life on June 12, 1999, in Salt Lake City after a long illness. He was 87.
Devoted husband and father and loyal "Utah man" to his beloved state and university, he led a life of accomplishment, rising from humble beginnings in Bingham Canyon to become a candidate for governor of Utah and a high-ranking official in the Nixon administration. In between, he was a 30-year resident of Moab, where he became a central figure in the uranium boom of the '50s and where he raised his family of four children with his loving wife Dorie.Mitch Melich was born in Bingham on February 1, 1912, to Joe and Mary Kalember Melich, who were first-generation Serbs. His father was born Novak Bogdanovich but changed his name after immigrating to the United States; he was a leader in the local and national Serbian community before his death in 1922, when Mitch was 10.
After working his way through high school and college in the copper mine in Bingham, Mitch graduated from the University of Utah with a law degree in 1934. His dedication to the university never waned; he served on its board of regents in the early '60s and also was one of the first members of its national advisory council. He preached education to his children and was most proud of the advanced degrees they earned.
With few job prospects in Salt Lake City during the depths of the Depression, he borrowed a few hundred dollars and headed south to hang out his shingle in Moab. A year later, on June 3, 1935, he married his college sweetheart, Doris M. Snyder, in Salt Lake City and they began a rich and active life in Moab.
He gravitated naturally toward public office, serving for two decades as town attorney and also a stint as Grand County attorney. A Republican, he was elected to the State Senate in 1942; at age 30, he became the youngest member of that body. He served for eight years, during which time he held party leadership posts as minority whip and minority leader. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1948.
His life took a dramatic turn one day in 1952 when a miner named Charlie Steen walked into his law office and declared that he had found uranium and wanted to form a corporation; it became Utex Exploration Co., of which Mitch served as an officer. He also later served as president of the Uranium Reduction Co. for eight years.
As the uranium boom faded, Mitch turned his attention back to politics. After serving as a Republican national committeeman, he moved to Salt Lake City in 1964 and won the Republican nomination for governor, losing in the general election to Calvin Rampton. When the Republicans won the White House four years later, he was named solicitor of the Department of Interior. He served in that position from 1969-73, first under Walter Hickel and then under Rogers Morton.
He returned to Salt Lake City and joined the law firm of Ray, Quinney and Nebeker; he continued to go to the office until three years ago.
He was for many years a director of First Security Bank of Utah. He was active in public service, not only to the University of Utah but also as a longtime director of St. Mark's Hospital and as a supporter of the local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, which named him its Man of the Year in 1991.
Mitch was a lifelong learner; he was intensely curious and was a voracious reader. His passion for travel took him to national parks and Republican national conventions with his children, on a journey around the world, on a trip to China when it opened to foreign visitors, and to his parents' Yugoslavian homeland.
He enjoyed golf and avidly rooted for the Utes. He appreciated and supported the arts and, as a member of the State Senate, established legislation founding the Utah Symphony.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Dorie; his four children, Tanya (Noel Silverman) of New York City, Michael (Gayle) of Niceville, Fla., Nancy (Lex Hemphill) of Salt Lake City, and Rob (Katie) of Louisville, Colo.; seven grandchildren, Shelly and Christopher Ossana, Karla and Evan Silverman, and Sophie, Megan and Josef Melich; a sister, Sophie Borich; in-laws, Leroy Dickerson, Virginia and Corwin Likins, and Margaret Snyder, and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family wishes to thank Shelly Parkin of Golden Years Consultants and her cadre of devoted caregivers, particularly Cari Allen, Georgia Anderson, and Bobbie Wilson, for their generous service over the last year and a half.
A funeral service will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at Evans and Early Mortuary, 574 East 100 South, Salt Lake City, where friends may visit with the family Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. Interment will be at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Mitchell Melich Scholarship Fund at the University of Utah College of Law or to the Arthritis Foundation.