SALT LAKE CITY — Utah native and billionaire Earl Holding died Friday night, according to a spokesman from Sinclair Oil, one of Holding’s many businesses. He was 86 years old.
Holding, whose given name is Robert Earl Holding, is the long-time owner of Sinclair Oil after buying the business in 1976. He has since built a business empire worth a reported $2.6 billion, according to Forbes, and is ranked by Forbes 400 as the 155th richest person in America.
"As an individual he was a lion of a man," said Clint Ensign, senior vice president of the Sinclair Companies. "We all had tremendous respect, admiration and love for both Mr. and Mrs. Holding. He just was a remarkable, rare individual and one of the brightest business minds that I've met."
Besides Sinclair Oil, Holding was the owner of Grand America and Little America hotels, the Westgate Hotel in San Diego, and two ski resorts — Sun Valley Idaho and Snowbasin near Ogden.
Holding is said to have been among the largest landowners in America, with some 400,000 acres across the West.
Holding attended the University of Utah and began his professional life as a civil engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation. He and his wife Carol were married in 1949 and together the couple raised three children.
Holding suffered a severe stroke in 2002, which left him partially paralyzed, though he continued to lead his organization for years.
The cause of his death has not yet been released, but Ensign said it was his understanding that Holding died as a result of old age and the lingering symptoms of his stroke.
Marty Carpenter, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, described Holding as a businessman who went beyond commercial success.
"This is a man who was so successful in business and so successful as a family man that this is a tremendous loss for our community," Carpenter said. "We’ve lost a great man who did a lot to enrich the lives of the people who live in our community."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also expressed his appreciation of Holding.
"Jeanette and I offer our heartfelt condolences to the family of Earl Holding, a Utah icon of initiative, industry and hospitality," he said. "May they find peace and comfort at this difficult time, as well as reassurance that Earl's profound contributions to the greater community will endure."