Olene Smith Walker, Utah’s 15th and first female governor, died on Saturday at the age of 85.
From a Weber County farm girl to her term in Utah’s highest office, Walker was well known for her common sense and determination to get the job done.
Walker earned her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, her master’s degree from Stanford University and her doctorate degree from the University of Utah. She operated as lieutenant governor for over 11 years and was a member of the Utah legislature for eight years.
Walker was born on November 15, 1930 and is the second of five children of Thomas O. Smith and Nina Hadley Smith. Her parents operated a 100-acre farm, along with their professional careers—her mother was an educator and her father was Ogden School District manager for 25 years up until his retirement.
Walker believed the best way to work out a problem or an argument was to sit down and talk about it. She lived by a motto: the answer to any and every conflict begins when somebody says, “Let’s talk about it.”
Governor Walker wanted to make sure that children especially kept an open mind, and she believed the best way was to open a book. She launched her “Read with a Child” program that focused primarily on getting adults to read with a child for 20 minutes every day.
Walker loved reading on her own and to groups of children, one of her personal favorites being Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”
Walker created the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University in 2012 to help foster community and public service. She was passionate about continually fighting for the funding of a nurturing environment for all Utah’s students.
Director of the Walker Institute Carol McNamara worked alongside Governor Walker and shared many experiences with her.
Governor Walker was dedicated to the promotion of civic education and teaching students, children and communities why it is important to be involved within political and civic leadership.
“I want students to know that Governor Walker dedicated herself in her retirement from politics to the creation of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service here at Weber State University because she wanted to make an impact on the lives of students and community members, she wanted to see them engaged in politics and she wanted to promote civic education and political leadership among students,” McNamara said. “The best way to honor Governor Walker’s legacy is to come and see me and to become involved in government in the civic realm and to serve internships. We have lots of internships for students to do on local, state and national levels.”
Walker taught many around her that it didn’t really matter where she served, but how she served. She has impacted many lives and her legacy will continue to do so. Weber State students will remember her as a trailblazer for women in politics and a role model for all.