Olene Walker

Olene Walker (née Smith; November 15, 1930 – November 28, 2015) was an American politician and Utah's 15th Governor. She was sworn into office on November 5, 2003, shortly before her 73rd birthday, as Utah's first female governor. She was a member of the Republican Party.[1]

Olene Walker
Olene Walker.JPG
15th Governor of Utah
In office
November 5, 2003 – January 3, 2005
LieutenantGayle McKeachnie
Preceded byMike Leavitt
Succeeded byJon Huntsman Jr.
4th Lieutenant Governor of Utah
In office
January 4, 1993 – November 5, 2003
GovernorMike Leavitt
Preceded byVal Oveson
Succeeded byGayle McKeachnie
Personal details
Olene Smith

(1930-11-15)November 15, 1930
Ogden, Utah, U.S.
DiedNovember 28, 2015(2015-11-28) (aged 85)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Myron Walker
EducationBrigham Young University (BA)
Stanford University (MA)
University of Utah (PhD)

Early life and educationEdit

Walker was born Olene Smith in Ogden, Utah, in 1930 to Thomas Ole Smith and Nina (née Hadley) Smith, the second of their five children. She graduated from Weber High School. Walker received her bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University, her master's from Stanford University, and her doctorate in education administration from the University of Utah.[2][3]

Political career overviewEdit

Walker's political background includes eight years in the Utah House of Representatives, including a term as Majority Whip, during which she helped create Utah’s Rainy Day Fund. She served as the fourth Lieutenant Governor of Utah for the 10 years prior to becoming governor.[1] She founded the Salt Lake Education Foundation and served as its director. She served as director of the Utah Division of Community Development. She has chaired the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, the Utah State Housing Coordinating Committee, the Governor's Commission on Child Care, and the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors.[4][5] She also became the first woman governor of Utah. Senator Orrin Hatch said Walker "truly paved the way for women in government in Utah."[6] Also, throughout her political career "her passion across the board" was education.[3]


Walker assumed the office of Governor of the State of Utah after previous governor Mike Leavitt was nominated by President George W. Bush to lead the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003. Walker served as governor until the end of the term on January 3, 2005.[7]

During her short term as governor, Walker focused on supporting education in Utah. She created the Read With a Child Early Literacy Initiative, visited classrooms often to read to children, and vetoed a proposal for vouchers for private schools with the reasoning that the proposal would take funding away from public schools.[3] She also signed legislation ending the use of firing squads for execution in Utah and worked to preserve Utah wilderness and to create affordable housing.[8]

In a move that caused a degree of controversy within the state, the Utah Republican Party at its convention on May 8, 2004, elected not to place Walker on the ballot for the party primary (held on June 22, 2004), selecting instead Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Nolan Karras as the two potential Republican party candidates for the office of Governor of the State of Utah, the first time in 48 years that an incumbent Utah governor failed to win a party nomination.[9] Huntsman went on to win the primary election with more than 66% of the vote. These events effectively ruled out any possibility of Walker being on the ballot in the 2004 general election. Convention delegates defended their choice by claiming that many of the delegates were already pledged to other candidates, because Walker had served only six months as Governor before the party convention.[citation needed] She had also waited until two months before the nominating convention to choose to run for re-election, giving her rivals a head start to build their campaigns.[7] She left office with an 87% approval rating.[6]

The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public ServiceEdit

In 2012 Walker created the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service to "help foster in Weber State University students and the broader community the ideals of public service and political engagement that motivated her decades-long career in Utah politics."[10] The Walker Institute coordinates internships for Weber State University students, holds public forums and debates on public policy issues, and provides leadership and engaged-citizenship workshops for students and the community at large.[11]

Personal life and deathEdit

She was married to Myron Walker; they had seven children and twenty-five grandchildren. Walker and her husband were Latter-day Saints (Mormons). She and her husband served as International Affairs missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City.[12] Starting in spring of 2010 she served as the Primary president in the Bloomington 7th Ward on the south side of St. George, Utah.[6]

Olene Walker died of natural causes on November 28, 2015, thirteen days after her 85th birthday.[13]

Two of her brothers and their wives died in a plane crash on February 28, 1981.[14][15]


The State of Utah operates the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which seeks to provide affordable housing throughout the state,[16] renovate rural housing, protect tenants from landlords who seek to exploit them, and in other ways provide livable housing options to low income residents of the state.

In May 2010 the Utah County Democratic Party gave Walker its first distinguished service award.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker Has Died | Utah | Government Health Care". Scribd. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  2. ^ Block, Maxine; Rothe, Anna Herthe; Candee, Marjorie Dent (2005). "Current Biography Yearbook". google.ca. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "'Sweet,' 'tough' Olene Walker was a pioneer and an advocate for bettering lives in Utah". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  4. ^ "Olene Smith Walker – Smart, classy, wonderful". The Spectrum & Daily News. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  5. ^ "Olene Walker | Utah State Capitol". utahstatecapitol.utah.gov. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Chen, Daphne (November 28, 2015). "Olene Walker, "one of Utah's finest public servants," Utah's first and only female governor, dies at age 85". DeseretNews.com. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Olene Walker, Utah's First Female Governor, Dies at 85". The New York Times. November 29, 2015. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  8. ^ "Olene Walker, Utah's First Female Governor, Dies at 85". The New York Times. November 29, 2015. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  9. ^ "GOP selects Huntsman, Karras". Deseret News. May 9, 2004.
  10. ^ "Walker Institute | Weber State University". www.weber.edu. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  11. ^ McNamara, Carol (June 13, 2017). "An enduring legacy of civil politics at Weber State University". Standard-Examiner. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  12. ^ "Walker to serve an LDS mission". DeseretNews.com. May 12, 2005. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  13. ^ Dan Harrie (November 28, 2015). "Olene Walker: A Utah original and pioneer is gone". The Salt Lake Tribune.
  14. ^ https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14813146/vern-hadley-smith
  15. ^ Ranter, Harro. "Accident Piper PA-32 N4243T, 28 Feb 1981". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  16. ^ "Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund - Mission Statement". www.housing.utah.gov. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  17. ^ Marc Haddock (May 17, 2010). "Utah County Democrats to honor former GOP Gov. Olene Walker". DeseretNews.com. Archived from the original on July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 16, 2010.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Val Oveson
Lieutenant Governor of Utah
Succeeded by
Gayle McKeachnie
Preceded by
Mike Leavitt
Governor of Utah
Succeeded by
Jon Huntsman