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Auto Icon Bob Garff Dies From COVID-19 Complications

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Robert Garff, chairman of Ken Garff Enterprises, has died from complications caused by COVID-19, according to officials with the Ken Garff Automotive Group.

Officials said Garff and his wife, Katharine, tested positive for the coronavirus after driving back from a trip to Palm Springs, California, and immediately self-quarantined.

Garff was hospitalized earlier this week after feeling more ill and died Sunday at the age of 77.

“Robert was a giant in the community, a pioneer in the auto industry, and the biggest cheerleader to every employee at Ken Garff Automotive,” officials said. “Robert loved his family immensely and will be missed by them as well as his employees and many friends. We ask the media and public to please respect the privacy of the Garff family as they grieve the loss of their husband, father, and grandfather.”

”We have 4,500 employees at Ken Garff and every single one of them knows “Old Bob”, said Brett Hopkins, CEO of Ken Garff Automotive.

Garff had a 60-plus year career in the automobile business, working alongside his father Ken for many of those years.

“I believe he was a pioneer in the car business,” Hopkins said. “He took a company that his father had built and increased it in size by multiples of 10.”

Garff was the former Chairman of the Board for the Deseret Book Company and served on the board for organizations such as Intermountain Health Care, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Utah Commission on Volunteers.

He also served as the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives from 1985 to 1987 and was the former chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Garff’s daughter, Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake City, posted about her father’s death on Sunday.

My loving dad passed away peacefully today from COVID-19. He has lived a long and happy life, full of vigor and love for…

Posted by Representative Melissa Garff Ballard on Sunday, March 29, 2020

In 1998, Garff was named as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Games.

Longtime friends and colleagues remembered Graff as a kind and gentle man, always putting others first.

“I think the best description about Bob Garff is he’s the nicest man that you will ever meet,” Hopkins said. “He had a genuine interest in people always inquiring about people’s families.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, who served as President and CEO of the 2002 SLOC, said Garff’s passing broke his heart and added the 2002 Olympics were arguably the best ever, thanks to Garff’s leadership.

“Bob’s contributions to our state, to our economy, and to our church will be heralded by many. But for me, it was his sound and principled leadership as the Chairman of the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 that is most compelling,” Romney said in a statement. “The scandal that surrounded the Games could have overwhelmed our collective commitment, but Bob’s genuine goodness, clear-eyed optimism, and can-do management experience helped to re-ignite our confidence and community spirit. The Games were arguably the best ever, in large measure thanks to the character and care of Bob Garff. Ann and I will miss our friend very, very much. We send our sympathy and love to dear Kathi.”

Garff also held numerous calling in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Bishop, President of the England Coventry Mission, Stake President for University of Utah students, Area Seventy and President of the Bountiful Temple.

He also supported his alma mater, the University of Utah, by helping fund a new building for the David Eccles School of Business and the upcoming Ken Garff Performance Zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Garff was the third Utahn to die from COVID-19 and his wife was recovering at home.

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