SALT LAKE CITY — Long before he became the longest federal officeholder in Utah's history, Orrin Hatch was Gary Herbert's Sunday School teacher — in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Utah governor was serving a mission for the LDS Church at the time, and attended Hatch's class. "I learned a lot from him," Herbert said.
"I knew he was going to be a great person and do great things. I just thought it was going to be in Pennsylvania," Herbert said Saturday. "Our great blessing was a few years later he decided to move to Utah."
Herbert was speaking to about 1,100 of the senator's friends and supporters Saturday night at the Grand America Hotel ballroom, where Hatch was honored as a Giant in Our City — a prestigious accolade reserved for towering figures in Utah's business community.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. and the evening's keynote speaker, lauded Hatch "for leaving this country, this world a better place than you found it."
"Millions of Americans were helped and saw their lives improved thanks to Orrin Hatch," Ryan said. "Not enough can be said about this man's legacy. And even though he likes to call himself a tough old bird … this man is among the most civil and decent leaders that our country has been blessed with."
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — who ran with Ryan on the ticket in 2012 — also attended Saturday's celebration. President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also attended and delivered a prayer to begin the evening.
Hatch gave a speech calling the Giant in Our City award and presentation "among the most humbling experiences of my life."
"Throughout my Senate service, I've done everything I could to foster an entrepreneurial environment," Hatch said. "Achieving this goal would have been impossible if it weren’t for the support of the Salt Lake Chamber and its distinguished members."
The senator, who has served since 1977 and plans to retire from public service in January, is the award's 39th recipient since 1970. The award is not given every year.
The title of Giant in Our City was created by the Salt Lake Chamber to "honor exceptional and distinguished public service and extraordinary professional achievement," according to the commerce association.
Hatch said what he has been able to accomplish in his life after growing up poor is a testament to the United States being a land of opportunity.
"I came up during the Great Depression living in a ramshackle house. … My parents gave us everything they had — but we still had next to nothing," Hatch said. "Only in a nation like ours could someone like me, the scrappy son of a metal (worker), become a United States senator."
Ryan also praised Hatch for living his LDS faith. "He answered that high calling day in and day out," he said.
"In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin says, 'I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God,'" Ryan said.
Hatch, Ryan said, "has done that and more."
Ryan also took the opportunity to rib Hatch with some jokes about politics, even bringing President Donald Trump into it.
"There's a lot of talk about impeachment from the 'resist' crowd. I wonder if anybody has told this resist crowd that next in line are (Vice President) Mike Pence, then me, then Senator Hatch," Ryan joked.
Hatch was also honored Saturday with a tribute video featuring prominent names including Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
"You’ve always been a great champion of technology and a good friend to Facebook and to me personally," Zuckerberg said in the tribute.
Zuckerberg added that "over the years, (Hatch) fought for everything from immigration reform to keeping the internet free and open."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Hatch's "extraordinary record" in politics during another video message.
"Orrin Hatch was a difference maker for Utah and the country for decades," McConnell said.
Lonnie Ali, the wife of the late boxer Muhammad Ali, also shared a video message briefly describing her husband's friendship with Hatch. She called Hatch "a modest and humble man of great integrity, honesty and civility."
President Ballard said in the video tribute: "Who else has been a senator for the state of Utah for over 42 years? That in its own right has him standing awfully tall."13 comments on this story
"I think he’s one of those Americans who sees America as one of the great places in the world where if you have the idea, and you have the courage, and you have the desire to do do something … America is the place where that’s possible," he said.
Hatch's wife, Elaine Hatch, recalled her husband's early political career, saying his first ever Senate run came as a surprise to the whole family but that they soon realized "he was a convincer."
"I realized then he could handle people who didn’t see the same way he did who thought different ways," she said, later adding, "He’s just a good man clear through."