Sally Elliott’s legacy will last
Sally Elliott is a self-described alpha female. She laughs loudly when she admits it and she uses a word other than "female," but it doesn’t read as well. Nevertheless, the description is accurate and the town is incredibly lucky to have her.
Elliott, who will step down Jan. 7 after two terms on the Summit County Commission and Council, has been a virtual powerhouse in Park City and Summit County politics and the populous Park City nonprofit world for over 25 years. Her accomplishments over the years are impressive, almost astounding.
Elliott brushes it off. Accolades don’t impress her. "It’s time for some R&R for me, time for the young people to take over."
Laughter erupts easily and often as Elliott reflects on a lifetime of public service (it started over 50 years ago). "It was my destiny," she chortles. "I was just born this way. You can’t change it. Politics for an alpha female is just a natural fit. I’ve always been a ringleader, kind of a grownup Girl Scout."
That’s no joke. She really was a Girl Scout throughout her school years and her first job out of college was — you guessed it — for the Girl Scouts in Muskogee, Oklahoma, her hometown.
"That’s right, I’m an ‘Okie from Muskogee,’ she declares proudly. "Give me a microphone and two scotches and I’ll stand on a table and sing it."
Elliott grew up camping, water skiing and riding horses with her family. She loved barrel racing and school activities and was elected junior high school treasurer. Elliott, a sterling student, skipped her senior year of high school to attend the University of Oklahoma, where she studied sociology.
She met Torch, now her husband of 45 years, soon after her arrival on campus. "Torch was planning a career in the Army," she recounts. "We were best friends for years and I was his ‘default’ date when he was stationed at Fort Sill. He went and complicated things when he kissed me at the door one night, just before he left for his first tour in Vietnam. He said, ‘If you’re not married when I get back, I’m going to marry you.’ So that’s what we did. He never proposed and I never said yes. We just planned it out together and got it done in 1967. He’s still my best friend and the most wonderful person I ever met in my life."
The pair set out on a 20-year Army adventure that took them to Korea and far-flung U.S. posts from Alaska to Texas to Washington, D.C. Children Charles (Chip), Elizabeth (Libby) and Catherine (Cat) joined the Elliott entourage along the way. When Torch retired from the Army, he told Sally it was her turn to choose where they lived.
After an exhaustive search, she picked Park City for its proximity to a major city and airport and for its world-class junior racing ski team (all the kids were racers). Skiing was a family passion the Elliotts embraced during their military years (Elliott even started the American Ski School in Korea).
"We moved here in July of 1985 and, by the time the Miners Day parade rolled down Main Street, it was clear to us we had found home," says Elliott.
She plunged into public service within a few months of her arrival, with an appointment to the city parks and recreation board. That modest beginning was the opening act of what would become a 25-year odyssey, encompassing a dizzying array of appointments, elected offices and business ventures.
The list is long and well known to most Parkites: a term on the Park City Council; a term on the Summit County Commission followed by a term on the Summit County Council; board appointments (often chairs) on the Utah Quality Growth Commission, Utah Heritage Foundation, Park City Chamber of Commerce, Mountain Trails Foundation and Summit Land Trust (now Utah Open Lands), Utah Women’s Political Caucus, Park City Historical Society, and Recycle Utah; founder of the Park City Garden Club; and volunteer work with the Park City Ski Education Foundation and National Ability Center. Awards include Sierra Club 2007 Utah Political Leader of the Year, 2012 Recycler of the Year from Recycle Utah and the 2010 Community Service Award from the Park City Board of Realtors. That’s just a scratch on the surface of a two-page resume that’s exhausting to even read.
The "why" of it all is a simple question for Elliott. "I was born into a family that placed a high value on public service. Plus, I’ve fought a lifelong battle against boredom. I haven’t been bored lately."
Elliott gained a reputation around town as a thoughtful, sometimes over-modulated voice in city and county politics. "I’m such a mouth," she admits. "I could always be heard without a microphone in any room. I’m not a particularly creative person," she adds modestly, "but I know a good idea when I see it. And I’ve fought for a lot of good ideas in the last 25 years.
"I’ve always just known how to get things done, plus I had a secret weapon – soup," Elliott confides. "I figured out the best way to get decisions made was to put all the players around a table and feed them. Then I’d just sit back and shut up and let them solve the problem. See, when people are eating they’re relaxed. Soup works best because all it takes is a little love to make it."
Of all her accomplishments, what is she most proud of? The answer comes without hesitation. "Six thousand acres of open space, isn’t that amazing! It’s a phenomenal accomplishment for any community." She’s quick to deflect the credit. "Thank goodness for the vision and leadership of people like Myles Rademan, Jen Harrington, Toby Ross and Brad Olch. I didn’t even know what open space was until I was elected to the City Council."
"Looking back, even though so much has changed, the issues we face in city and county government are pretty much the same as they’ve always been," notes Elliott." Open space, trails, quality of life, responsible planning and controlled growth still dominate most discussions. People who have moved here have been changed by living here. They’ve made wonderful, wonderful contributions by joining the effort to make this a great place to live."
Mrs. Elliott isn’t the only one easing into retirement mode. Husband Torch last week stepped away from the teaching post he’s held at the University of Utah since retiring from the Army. The transition won’t be abrupt. "We’re not going anywhere, except during ‘mud season.’ We’re going to ski all winter and I look forward to mentoring the younger crowd coming in.
"Park City is our retirement home," she continues. "Why would anybody want to go anyplace else? This town is fabulous. Even with all the changes and all the growth in the 25 years we’ve been here, it’s still fabulous. You come back from a trip and you think, ‘Oh man, it is good to be home,’ because this is still the best place ever."
The empty-nesters recently bought a new motor home that seats ten people at two tables. "It’s perfect for traveling bridge parties. Bridge is great because every hand is different." she grins. "It’s not boring."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com
VITAL STATISTICS Ski, bike, hike, camp, ride horses, play bridge, dance
Favorite things to do:
Favorite foods: "My favorite food is probably soup, but the range is vast."
Favorite reading: Nonfiction, biography and history
Favorite music: Everything from opera to country
Bucket list: Travel to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal; motor home back East to visit friends and ride rail trails, the C&O towpath and the Allegheny Passage.
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