Going Local: Jon M. Huntsman, Sr.

Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., with his wife Karen. Photo credit: philanthropy.com
Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., with his wife Karen. Photo credit: philanthropy.com

Today, Utah lost one of its all-time greats in the state’s short history. Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., passed away at the age of 80. He will be forever known as one of the great minds, businessmen, and philanthropists in the region.

Jon Meade Huntsman was born in Blackfoot, Idaho to a family steeped in education pursuits. His father attended Stanford for graduate studies; the young Huntsman graduated from Palo Alto High School and attended the University of Pennsylvania on scholarship, subsequently completing graduate work at the University of Southern California. Huntsman got his start in the plastics industry there, eventually branching out on his own to found the Huntsman Container Corporation and, eventually, Huntsman Chemical.

Huntsman Chemical in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo credit: The Boyer Company
Huntsman Chemical in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo credit: The Boyer Company

Huntsman Chemical was started in Salt Lake City in 1982 and became extremely successful, between innovation, acquisition, and expansion. The business is still in the family but is also now publicly-traded.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute overlooks the Salt Lake Valley from the University of Utah. Photo credit: huntsmancancer.org
The Huntsman Cancer Institute overlooks the Salt Lake Valley from the University of Utah. Photo credit: huntsmancancer.org

Philanthropically, Huntsman has given billions to charity over the years. His most prominent project has been with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, located next to the University of Utah. A four-time cancer survivor himself, HCI became closely personal to Huntsman and the rest of his family, and it is on track to be one of the largest cancer research institutes and hospitals in the world. Huntsman was also a major factor in the success of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, giving generously to the cause. In addition to the HCI and the Olympics, Huntsman has backed education at the University of Utah, University of Pennsylvania, Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and Brigham Young University. Huntsman was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as a mission president in Washington, D.C. Huntsman Sr. also served as an Area Seventy from 1996 to 2011.

The Huntsman Center is home to basketball for the University of Utah. Photo credit: stadium.utah.edu
The Huntsman Center is home to basketball for the University of Utah. Photo credit: stadium.utah.edu
Jon M. Huntsman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. Photo credit: hillintl.com
Jon M. Huntsman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. Photo credit: hillintl.com

The legacy that Huntsman leaves behind also includes all of his honors. These include multiple awards from his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, while he was an undergraduate student. He also received awards from Armenia, Cuban Americans, the American Academy of Achievement, the Freedom Foundation, and the Caring Institute. Further recognition includes the Horatio Alger National Award, Entrepreneur of the Year from Ernst and Young, the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, emeritus recognition from the University of Pennsylvania, induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame, the National Award for Charity, Innovator of the Year from The Wall Street Journal, recognition from Insider and Fortune for generosity, 13 honorary doctorate degrees, and the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. There’s no questioning of the man’s generosity to his community locally and around the nation, let alone the world.

Huntsman was greatly involved in politics, though he never held elected public office himself. He worked alongside the Nixon administration in its first term and played a key role at the state level for the elections of Reagan and Bush Sr. He took positions in the Bangerter administration and helped his eldest son, Jon Huntsman Jr., during his presidential run in 2012, ultimately endorsing Mitt Romney. He wasn’t an enemy, though, of different ideologies. Friends included Glenn Beck and Harry Reid, and he endorsed individuals of both parties over many years.

Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. leaves behind 9 children and 56 grandchildren. His second-eldest son Peter is the CEO of the Huntsman Chemical Corporation as of 2000 and also runs the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. His eldest son Jon Huntsman Jr. is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, having formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador to China, Singapore, and as the governor of Utah and a Huntsman Chemical Executive. Huntsman Jr. has also served in the Brookings Institute. Huntsman Sr.’s granddaughter, Abby, is a reporter and host for the Fox News Channel.

Clearly, in the Huntsman family, giving and serving others is a way of life. It started from the top with Jon Huntsman, Sr., who had been, unquestionably, one of Utah’s leading lights for many years. He will be dearly missed.

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