Teri Orr: Silver veins…
I don’t remember how we met — it was in the late ’90s, somewhere as I was raising money for the Eccles Center. I met a couple, around my age, who just landed here from New York City — but he had the longest of ties to the state. He was a Kearns — the grandson of the icon who was governor and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune and owned the Park City Silver King Coalition Mines (along with David Keith). His grandmother was Jenny Judge of the Park City Judge Daly Mine family, who ran a boarding house for miners, before she met her Irish prince and became the state’s First Lady and built that spectacular mansion which has served ever since as the governor’s residence in Salt Lake City.
I learned he had been involved with Conde Nast publications in New York. She had been a successful runway model and understood fashion and art in that understated cool way the English have about them.
I remember defining them in my head by the Eagles lyrics.
“He was a hard-headed man
He was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty…”
Soon Miriam was on our board for the Eccles Center and I was writing for a new publication Michael had created called “The Salt Lake Observer.” My back-page piece was titled “View from Park Avenue.” The paper was a broadsheet — two 16-page sections — with lots of color and art. It was smart — too smart again by half, perhaps, as the saying goes. It lasted just over a year. It was followed by a four color, glossy, lifestyle magazine, Utah Homes and Gardens, that lasted about a decade and won a fistful of journalism awards. I wrote a back-page column for it for awhile, too.
Their son, Thomas, was born on Aug. 11, 1999 — an easy day to remember. The day of the devastating tornado in Salt Lake City. It seriously messed with their birth plans and original hospital location they had rehearsed.
Michael and I learned we had both grown up down the road from each other, in the San Francisco Bay Area — me in San Carlos, he in the rarified air of Atherton. We were both of Irish decent but he knew all about his relatives and for most of my life, I knew little about mine. He loved his Park City-rooted connections but he lived in Salt Lake once he landed here. Salt Lake was blooming back then with an increased social life, better restaurants, more art and more performance. The state was small — just under two million people. Those who were making a difference in arts and culture were a pretty small pool. We often swam together.
In fact, after awhile when they discovered we would all be attending the same Salt Lake events they would invite me to not drive back up — just stay the night with them. And I would — pack a bag and sometimes stay. Those nights often ended in the wee hours of the morning. Miriam would stay up as long she could but eventually she would leave Michael and I to keep debating politics and journalism and art. When the sun came up, young Thomas and I would both toddle into the kitchen in our jammies. Tea and toast would be waiting. I remember one of their homes was rumored to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or his associate or maybe someone he once slept with. We laughed about the stories but the house had — as they say — good bones. And a pool. And young Thomas was/is part fish so that worked out well. In fact, after his years in the Choir of the Madeline and school at Judge, he is now on the water polo team at Gonzaga.
The last time I saw Michael was when we presented Bob Woodward at the Eccles in December of 2018. Woodward was interviewed by Doug Fabrizio because I wanted the best to interview the best. In the Q-and-A part of the evening, Michael was determined to ask the final question and he did. He proudly stood up and introduced himself as a former owner of the Salt Lake Tribune. He was always proud of his journalist linage.
This week at the intimate wake for Michael, who had passed away due to complications of COVID, the room was filled with ghosts. And with current priests and former nuns. My friend whispered to me, as I was re-introduced to yet another newspaper icon from my past…
“I bet you forgot about the Utah Irish Mafia, didn’t you?” And I had.
It was Thomas who stood at the wake and remembered his father and his father’s love of words. As he read one of Michael’s favorite poems, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by the Anglo Irish poet William Butler Yeats, he broke. Somewhere in the second stanza his composure crumbled and he fought his tears trying to find his words. His mother, still stunning and understated Miriam, walked over and placed her hand on the small of his back. She didn’t grab the mic, she didn’t smother him with hugs or kisses. Her English cool dried his Irish tears. Thomas Kearns did his father proud and finished the poem and then graciously thanked the guests for coming.
As the conversations started I slipped away to a little parlor, off the side of the reception hall, where the casket lay. There were dozens of photos of the handsome couple that became the beautiful family. It was quiet there and I was alone. I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the kindnesses and laughter and late nights and art and poems and opportunities Michael had shown me. I didn’t return to the hall for the extended conversations. I did a classic Irish goodbye. I will toast Michael in my own quiet way, this Sunday where his grandparents once held court, here in The Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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