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Kathy Chamberlain
A photo of Gary Ott in his 20s, believed to have been taken around 1976 on a road trip in Nevada.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Gary Ott was in his late teenage years, he was known as the guy who built the fastest car in Cedar City.

His older brother, Marty Ott, jokes that he "still wakes up at night screaming" from a time when he was in the passenger seat when Gary, driving that car, turned the corner out of their neighborhood and floored the gas pedal.

"That genuinely terrified me," he said with a laugh. "And I'm sure Gary, God bless his soul, is still laughing about it."

His younger twin sisters, Kathy Chamberlain and Kris Williams, remember even later in life, when Gary would come down from Salt Lake City for family reunions in southern Utah, they would see who could drive the distance between Tropic and Cannonville the fastest.

Gary Ott, driving a yellow Honda, would usually win.

Williams said she "can still hear' her brother's infectious laugh.

Kathy Chamberlain
Gary Ott at age 13.

"You couldn't be around him without him making you laugh," she said. "I don't remember Gary ever having a bad attitude. He was a happy person. He made people happy."

He was a "magnet" for children and dogs — which was likely telling of his "good character," his brother said.

He loved dogs, big and small. He had a greyhound named Jake and a Jack Russell terrier named Sam, among many others.

While Gary Ott married twice, he never had kids — but his "animals were his children," Chamberlain said.

This is who Gary Ott was to his family — and it's how they want him to be remembered, rather than the turmoil at the end of his life as he battled with Alzheimer's disease, a fight he eventually succumbed to on Oct. 19 at the age of 66.

Ott's health struggles made plenty of headlines over the past year, but his brother and sisters don't want Utahns to remember him as the former Salt Lake County recorder who was at the center of controversy.

"We want to remember him as a kind, loving, loyal man of integrity," Chamberlain said. "That's who Gary was."

Ott's siblings, in preparation for his funeral on Saturday in Cannonville, Garfield County, reflected on their brother's life this week and shared their fondest memories with the Deseret News.

Family life

Gary Ott was born in Panguitch on April 11, 1951, to McCune Charter Ott and Mary Fae Ott. As a child, he and his siblings lived in a variety of places, including Colorado, Texas, Nevada and Utah as they followed their father's work with the National Park Service.

When sifting through his belongings in preparation for his funeral, Ott's sisters found a box of 12 arrowheads he had collected near Dinosaur National Monument when he was 8 years old.

"We couldn't believe he kept it for so many years," Williams said.

Kathy Chamberlain
A collection of arrowheads Gary Ott's sisters recently found while going through his belongings in his Salt Lake City home. They believe he collected the arrowheads near Dinosaur National Monument when he was 8 years old.

Ott's siblings said their brother's taste for adventure stuck with him through his life, from fast cars to the outdoors. But he also had a love for family — a bond that grew strong out of tragedy at the early age of 14.

That was when their father died too soon — at the age of 45 — of a heart attack, Chamberlain said, leaving behind his four children and their mother.

At the time, Marty Ott was on his way to college, so Gary became the man of the house.

"He had a lot of responsibility at home. … It was a responsibility he didn't begrudge at all," Williams said, adding that her brother "always had a job" to help, from delivering papers to working at the local theater.

Likely because of that responsibility, Chamberlain said he had a special bond with their mother.

"We knew that he was always her favorite, and we all knew that," Chamberlain laughed. "There was something about Gary she felt extra tender about."

After their father's death, Gary Ott "brought excitement into our lives with his personality and crazy adventures," Williams said. "He offered that to us at a time when we, two little girls, needed it most."

"Gary truly was a father figure to us," she said. "He stood in as our father at both of our weddings."

The sisters recalled a time when Ott, a teenager at the time, had placed a carefully wrapped present beneath the Christmas tree.

"We knew a present under the tree was something to be excited about," Williams said, so she and her sister were too anxious to wait until Christmas Day. They sneaked the present out from under the tree and unwrapped it — "shocked" to see he had bought them hair curlers, an "unreal" gift at the time because curlers were just becoming popular.

"But what we didn't know how to do is wrap that present back up very good," Williams said, so when her brother came home he was "furious his surprise had been discovered," and he threatened to return them.

But that Christmas, the twins got their curlers.

Ott was a "sensitive" brother and son, Williams said, adding that he would also work hard to buy special presents for their mother.

"He was just a thoughtful, caring person from the time he was little," she said.

When their mother died in 2010 — also of Alzheimer's — it was "very, very hard" on all of her children, Chamberlain said, but it hit him particularly hard. Even more tragic, Ott would die of the same disease just seven years later.

The siblings plan to bury their brother in Tropic, next to his mother and father.

'Heart and soul'

From his time in the Army, to his later professions in photography and politics, everything Ott did he did it with "heart and soul," Marty Ott said.

"He made stuff look easy, which was a great annoyance to me," he quipped.

"Truly everything Gary had an interest in, he conquered," Williams added.

After Ott graduated from high school in Cedar City, he immediately enlisted with the Utah National Guard and later the Army where he served in Germany until 1976. He was "proud" of his time in the military, Williams said.

Eventually, Ott would attend Utah State University, where he graduated with a degree in photography and art. Seeking work, he then moved to Salt Lake City, where he owned and operated a photo processing lab, but later adapted when digital technology rendered film less of a business.

He went on to lead several photo safaris in Africa, and worked in advertising and other jobs before he found work in the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office. There, he would eventually be appointed as recorder in 2001, a position he would keep for 16 years.

During his time in office, Ott was won multiple awards — including the 2014 Best of State Elected Official Award. He was recognized for reducing the office's budget and for being the first to digitize record keeping.

"He loved what he was able to do in the office," Chamberlain said. "He shook things up, saved the county a lot of money … but I think what he also liked was the camaraderie. He became such close friends with everybody in that circle — they were his family."

Williams said her brother simply loved politics and campaigning. He saw it as a "challenge" he never got bored of. Up until his 2014 campaign, his siblings said they helped him during every campaign season.

"To be a part of that — to stand on the corner and hold the sign for Gray Ott was pretty thrilling, and he was so touched his family wanted to be a part of it," Chamberlain said. "It was a great experience to be a part of his political life. To say, 'Gary Ott's my brother,' … it was a proud time for us, too."

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Reflecting on his brother's life, Marty Ott said if Gary were still alive, he'd urge people to "enjoy all of the good things in life," and "don't spend one second worrying" about the end.

To Chamberlain, her brother's success in life likely came from his upbeat attitude — depicted by something he would always say to her when they would talk on the phone every day.

"I would ask, 'How's your day, Gary?" she recalled, choking back tears. "And always he would say, 'I'm the only one that can decide what kind of a day I'm going to have.’"

That's a lesson she said she'll never forget from her brother.