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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Poet and author Emma Lou Thayne relaxes in her backyard in Salt Lake City in March 2003.
She was just right in there holding her own. She always seemed so positive and so up about everything. … A lot of people loved her. I think she represented a strong female voice for the church that will certainly be missed. —Chris Hicks

SALT LAKE CITY — Emma Lou Warner Thayne, noted LDS writer and poet, passed away Saturday after a lifetime of service to her family and the Salt Lake community.

Thayne was born Oct. 22, 1924, in Salt Lake City. During her 90 years of life, Thayne wrote and published 14 books, received numerous awards, and served on several boards, including the Deseret News, the General Board of the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association, and The Utah Arts Council and Odyssey House.

She is survived by her husband, Melvin; her five daughters, Becky Markosian, Rinda Hayes, Shelley Rich, Dinny Trabert, and Megan Heath; 19 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren.

Thayne's family says her life was marked by helping everyone who she came in contact with feel important, whether it was her hair dresser, the president of a college, or somebody at a gas station.

"Her whole essence was people, and just living life to the fullest every second of every day," Thayne's daughter, Shelley Rich, said.

Out of an accident in 1986 where Thayne was struck by a metal bar that came through the windshield of a car came her last book, "The Place of Knowing," which she called her spiritual autobiography. Her publications also include several works of poetry and a novel.

While her family has seen the wide influence of Thayne's writing, that influence is evermore meaningful now.

"Much of her adult life was spent mothering, raising five daughters, but also valuing the gift she had and making time to write," Rich said. "Now that we have her writing to be with us and with the world at-large for the rest of time, where she's gone, her physical body left us today, her beautiful words will live on forever. Every single one of us has a piece in her writing."

While family members spoke of many lessons to be learned from Thayne's life, there's one that stands apart:

"To love everybody. To have no limits to who you love and care about, and to be open," Rich said. "She was so open, she answered her phone every time it rang. It drove us nuts. She took every call."

Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed his condolences of Thayne's passing Saturday.

"I am saddened at the passing of my friend, Emma Lou Warner Thayne, a multi-talented and caring individual whose outstanding contributions in literature, in education and in other endeavors have done much to enlighten and to inspire. She will be greatly missed. I join with countless others in extending my deepest condolences to her dear husband Mel and to her entire family."

William B. Smart, former editor of the Deseret News, recalled Thayne's dedication to honesty and accuracy in journalism.

"She was a very strong advocate of openness and freedom of the press, and of transparency," Smart said. "She always insisted that we tell the whole story, and she was a very strong voice in supporting me in my efforts to create a truly frank and honest and open newspaper."

In addition to Thayne's professional associations, Smart said she was "a close personal friend" to him and to many.

"We talk about the renaissance man, she was the renaissance woman," he said. "She was a great writer and a great citizen for us here in this community — the whole citizenry, not just a part of it."

Rick Hall, managing editor of the Deseret News, said Thayne took a special interest in those she worked alongside.

"As a board member, Emma Lou was always a pleasure to work with," Hall said. "While constantly looking out for the good of the Deseret News, she was also deeply interested in Deseret News staffers, as writers, wordsmiths, photojournalists — and especially as individuals."

"She was just a sweetheart," recalled Chris Hicks, former movie critic and features editor for the Deseret News. "I loved her writing. I think it's a great loss to us in the literary LDS community, as well as for those of us who knew her personally."

Hicks said Thayne was, for a time, the only woman on the board of directors for the newspaper, serving alongside general authorities of the LDS Church, including Thomas S. Monson, Neal A. Maxwell and James E. Faust.

"She was just right in there holding her own," Hicks said. "She always seemed so positive and so up about everything. … A lot of people loved her. I think she represented a strong female voice for the church that will certainly be missed."

A viewing will be held at the Foothill LDS Stake Center, 1933 S. 2100 East, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday. Another viewing will take place Friday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 am., followed by funeral services at noon.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen