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Lee Benson, Deseret News
Fran Stultz poses with framed photos of her with "her" four governors: Mike Leavitt, Olene Walker, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Gary Herbert.

SALT LAKE CITY — The morning after Fran Stultz’s last day at the governor’s office — where for the past 23 years she has worked on the staffs of four governors — that sigh you heard coming from the Capitol was one of relief that the building was indeed still standing.

Phew! They could survive Stultz’s retirement after all.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Fran Stultz is pictured with framed photographs of the four governors she worked for at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

Stultz was a fixture up there on the Hill. She turned on the lights every morning, whipped stuff into shape, and 12 or so hours later turned the lights off at night — the kind of behind-the-scenes operative without which the wheels of government just might stop grinding.

Stories abound of Stultz’s indispensability. There was the morning of the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Fran was on her way to a dentist appointment when her cellphone rang. It was the office. The governor, Mike Leavitt, wanted to call every deputy in the state, pronto, Stultz was informed, which meant he needed her at the office, pronto, to get it organized. If she’d look in her rearview mirror, she was further informed, she’d see a highway patrolman behind her, and also one in front of her. She flipped a U-turn and was at the Capitol before she knew it.

On the way, she marshaled all the people needed to help her set up a statewide conference call with 20 deputies within the next 15 minutes. They were standing at her desk when she arrived, awaiting direction. Stultz sent them out like Tom Brady. The call went off without a hitch.

* * *

It was Stultz’s organizational skills that got her to the governor’s office in the first place. In 1995, she was working as a secretary to the principal at West High School when Corrine Hill, Gov. Leavitt’s deputy of education, called the school to set up a visit by the governor.

After the visit went off without a hitch, Stultz got a call from Jim Hill, a West High teacher and Corrine Hill’s son. He told Stultz his mother had been mightily impressed by the way the event was coordinated and wondered if she would be interested in working for her.

Stultz said yes.

At the Capitol, as executive assistant to the education deputy, Stultz spent the first month or so getting acclimated, making sure there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Then she started twiddling her thumbs. She went to the office manager, Dorothy Mooso.

“I’m a real active person,” she said. “Is there anything else around here I can do?”

Was there ever! Suddenly, Stultz was filling in cracks here, there and everywhere, learning all sorts of things about all sorts of things. A short while later, when Rich McKeown, Leavitt’s chief of staff, needed a new executive assistant, Stultz was the first person he asked. She subsequently served as executive assistant to the chief of staff for Govs. Olene Walker, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Gary Herbert — until 2011, when Herbert made her his personal assistant.

The first day on that job, Stultz’s husband Denny accompanied her to the Capitol. He had a plaque he wanted to give the governor. It read:

"I’m not bossy, I just know what you’re supposed to be doing."

“Here you go, she’s your problem now,” said Denny Stultz, smiling. “Take good care of her. Let her come home at night.”

It wasn’t long before Herbert started endearingly calling Stultz the “Bossy Lady,” as in, “See that bossy lady over there? Just go see her and she’ll get you all the details.”

“Gov. Herbert says he perfected my bossiness,” beams Stultz.

On Jan. 9, 2019, the day Stultz decided to call it a career after turning 65, Herbert made her honorific official when he declared that day “Fran Stultz Day” in the state of Utah.

In his declaration, the governor wrote:

“Whereas, Fran Stultz is lovingly referred to as the “Bossy Lady” and has improved her “bossyness” over the years;

“Whereas, she has coordinated schedules, overseen countless inaugurations, sent out hundreds of thousands of Christmas cards, fostered hundreds of interns’ self-esteem, cared for thousands of public servants’ and private employees’ egos, and managed just about everything (therefore begging the question, ‘Why do we need the governor — or the chief of staff for that matter?’);

"Whereas, it is no secret that Fran Stultz has been the muscle behind the office of the governor, and many times the brains, for more than two decades, putting every governor in their place, and giving them direction …”

And so on and so forth.

Stultz boxed up the declaration, her honorary Utah Highway Patrol hat and her framed pictures of her with the four governors she served under and headed pell-mell for her home in Rose Park to whip her crafts room into shape.

Oh, and she also took her memories.

Working that close, for nearly a quarter of a century, alongside Utah’s chief executives gave Stultz enough to last a lifetime.

“I had a very good experience with all of them,” she says. “You become an integral part of their life and their family and they become an integral part of yours. These are just superior people, in my view. I give them all high marks.”

It goes without saying there will be no tell-all book from Stultz.

“What happens in the governor’s office stays in the governor’s office,” she says with a grin.

But when pressed, she is not above throwing out an assessment or two.

Asked to rate the governors in a random variety of categories, here, courtesy of Stultz, is an impromptu snapshot of Utah’s four most recent governors:

Wittiest: Olene Walker.

“She had a great sense of humor. She was a bright, thoughtful, firm and fair boss, but there was this whole other side of her that was just about enjoying life. She’d put her feet up on the desk and sit back and say, ‘Oh, sure wish I didn’t have to wear these heels!’

"Olene didn’t sleep a lot. She told us that from midnight to 3 a.m. was the best time to get something done. She would email the staff at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I’d be up at 3 a.m. and I’d answer her and then we’d get going back and forth on the email and get silly because we were kinda punch drunk in the middle of the night.”

Most laid back: Jon Huntsman Jr.

“He would walk through the office and say, ‘OK, it’s 8th South and State Street time,’ and everybody that could would pile into his vehicle and we’d go down on State Street by Sears where the taco stand was and we’d eat the dollar tacos.”

Most intense: Gary Herbert.

“They all were intense in their own way, but Gov. Herbert had the busiest schedule of them all. Trying to find time for him to have a conversation with the first lady or his kids or his grandkids, it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to schedule you to talk with him while he’s traveling from this meeting to that meeting.’

"The others, we would schedule in 15-minute increments on their calendar; his I would do in two- and three-minute increments. He wants to talk to every single person. On the way from one meeting to the next I’d tell him ‘WT. Walk and Talk. Do two things at once.’ He’d tease me about it because I’d constantly be whispering ‘WT’ in his ear just to keep things moving.”

Best speaker: Mike Leavitt.

“They’re all exceptional speakers but if I really had to say the best I would say Mike Leavitt.”

Best snacker: Jon Huntsman Jr.

“He liked white bread and Mary Kaye (his wife) was very health conscious so there were always fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator at work but there was always white bread and peanut butter and jelly because Mary Kaye didn’t let him have anything but wheat bread at the mansion. And he liked cold cereal. He had very simple tastes when it came to things like that. Gov. Herbert likes fresh peaches and milk and chocolate chip cookies. He’s a milk drinker. Olene, I don’t know that she ever slowed down long enough to snack. I never saw her drink a soda. Mike was always a pretty healthy eater.

Thickest skin: Olene Walker.

“Being the first female governor, she had to have a thick skin and she did. She handled criticism very well.”

Most private: Jon Huntsman Jr.

“I think part of that — and this is just Fran speaking — is because he grew up in a world much differently than the other three. He was in the spotlight a lot because of his parents and because of the Huntsman Corporation. He valued his privacy. And he was generous privately. He would call me into his office and hand me cash or a check and say, ‘I know you’re doing this drive for those in need,’ or ‘I heard about this person, can you make sure this money gets to the family?’ And those were quiet, behind-the-scenes, never-on-the-public-calendar types of things.”

Best in a crisis: All of them.

“Every one of them know how to handle a difficult situation. They could call a meeting at the snap of a finger and say, ‘OK, here’s our problem. Let’s put it on the table and beat it to death; not one another, let’s work together.’”

Best singer: Gary Herbert.

“He has a beautiful voice. And he likes to quote movie lines. ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou,’ is a favorite, and Clint Eastwood movies.”

Fittest: All of them.

“The three men were all very dedicated to physical fitness. Jon Huntsman rode motorcycles and did all those types of sports; Mike Leavitt was a healthy eater and he tried to exercise quite regularly; Gov. Herbert tries to play tennis at least once a week. Olene was a little bit older, but she still walked. She kept tennis shoes at the office. If possible, when we were reviewing notes, we’d go for a walk around the rotunda or in the basement or the fourth floor.”

Best with the media: Mike Leavitt.

“He was a media star. He embraced the media, he knew what they could do for the state and help him as governor. But they all embraced the media; well, I wouldn’t say embraced, they all respected the media, at least from my viewpoint.”

Stultz’s favorite: “The one standing in front of me.”

“That’s what I always told my (three) kids. ‘You’re my favorite.’ I have so many favorite memories of each one. All four of them were gracious and kind and thoughtful. They are just exceptional people. Utah is very fortunate to have those types of leaders.”

* * *

After 23 years, and after watching three of her four governors skip down the Capitol steps and ride into the sunset, Stultz is fine with doing likewise as she exits a job she describes as “controlled chaos — it’s like riding a bicycle and juggling and being on the phone all at the same time.

“I don’t miss the chaos but I miss the people,” she says as she settles back into the home she and Denny bought when they were first married. “The people I worked with were wonderful.”

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Now, “I have a whole new world I want to explore,” she gushes. Getting back to swimming and aerobics are on the list, and taking college classes (“you know when you’re over 62 you can audit a lot of classes and just have fun”). Her highest priority is spending time with her seven granddaughters.

And she finally has time to get her hands on that crafts room.

To the naked eye, there isn’t a glue stick or a single sheet of paper out of place. But Stultz doesn’t see it that way.

“What a mess,” says the Bossy Lady as she sizes up the situation — and she doesn't need anyone to tell her what she should be doing.