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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Utah billionaire Jon Huntsman remembered as kind, devoted

Karen Huntsman, wife of Jon M. Huntsman, cries during his funeral at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (Jeffrey D. Allred / Associated Press)
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah billionaire and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. was remembered Saturday inside a basketball arena bearing his name as a generous and kind man devoted to his faith, family and community.

The elder Huntsman was the founder and longtime executive chairman of Huntsman Corp., an $11 billion company that refines raw materials that go into thousands of products. He and his family have given away more than $1.4 billion, including donations to a Salt Lake City cancer institute named for him.

Huntsman died Feb. 2 at age 80.

Peter Huntsman, current president and CEO of Huntsman Corp., said his father always placed family, faith and charity ahead of business.

“His business success was nothing more than a means to an end,” the son said, wiping away tears.

Seven of Huntsman’s children spoke during the service inside the University of Utah arena renamed in his honor 30 years ago. Nearly half of the lower bowl seats of the arena were filled.

“To the end, he remained upbeat and positive – his two favorite character traits,” said son Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia and formerly a Utah governor, presidential candidate and ambassador to China and Singapore. “He lived a full, bold American life.”

A committed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Huntsman served in several high-level leadership positions with the faith and had close friendships with the past five church presidents.

M. Russell Ballard, a member of a top-governing council called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Huntsman’s scriptures were battered and falling apart but that he declined an offer of a replacement because he had marked up the ones he had.

Huntsman Sr. was born in 1937 in Blackfoot, Idaho and later moved to California, where he met his wife Karen while in junior high school.

The couple later moved to Salt Lake City in the 1970s where they raised nine children, many of whom became involved in the family business. Huntsman is survived by his wife and eight children. One daughter, Kathleen Ann Huntsman, died in 2010 at age 44 after struggling for years with an eating disorder.

In 1970, Huntsman founded the Huntsman Container Corp., which focused on food packaging and pioneered the clamshell container used for McDonald’s Corp.’s Big Mac hamburger. He formed Huntsman Chemical Corp. in 1982 and more than a decade later, consolidated his companies as Huntsman Corp., producing materials used in a wide range of products, from textiles and paints to plastics and aviation components.

After amassing his fortune, Huntsman gave more than $100 million in the mid-1990s to establish a research center at the University of Utah dedicated to finding a cure for cancer through human genetics.

Huntsman, who lost both his parents to cancer and fought his own battle with the disease, eventually gave more than $400 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and its foundation.