Teri Orr: Good people in bad times…
In the long list of things that COVID has stolen from us I am especially sad we won’t have our annual Miners Day events. It is a holiday unique to Park City where we celebrate the culture of our mining heritage where others celebrate the end of summer and offer a hat tip to laborers in general. It has always been a playful day of celebration with a pancake breakfast and when I first moved to town 40-plus years ago — a dynamite blast at 6 a.m. to wake us all up equally. And we have had each year a funky fabulous parade.
The high school band would march in a loose formation and the politicians would wave from cars and the back of pickup trucks and occasionally on foot. For the first few years I was here in the late ’70s and early ’80s — you also counted on the Night Riders to show up on horseback. They were a throwback to the painted ladies of the 1880s and they rode bareback in their finery. The firetrucks and the rugby team float throwing out those tiny yellow wild roses that grew all over Old Town.
And for the past 30-plus years the parade had a car — somebody’s convertible — with the Rotary Citizen(s) of the Year — one professional and one volunteer. It was chance for the community to — in so many cases — be introduced to someone who had contributed to town in a way that made us better. And they exemplified the Rotary motto of — service above self.
This year the awards are especially poignant and valid and the honorees have been promised that convertible ride next year.
Still, you should know that Rich Bullough, the county health director, and Karen Marriott, volunteer extraordinaire, are two of the most deserving honorees the club has ever chosen.
Before COVID I knew both people from some social circles and somewhat from my life in the nonprofit world. I knew them both to be good humans but just in rather vague terms. In the past six months, for very different reasons I have come to know them both differently and more deeply, and my admiration for their commitments to their community at a deep personal level is both impressive and inspiring.
As COVID started to creep into our community in a meaningful and unavoidable way in March — I reached out to Rich to share concerns from a group of us who wanted Park City and Summit County to be aggressive in tackling the public health issues surrounding the virus. We were in favor of a very quick shutdown of public places and private ones. Rich, of course, was way ahead of us. He had spent his whole career being ready for this moment in time. He was consulting hourly with folks in other states and learning how they were implementing best practices in average towns and in resort communities. He was creating a set of policies that our city and county could hold onto as strong ballasts in the storm. The truth is the policies and protections he put in place became the playbook for (most of) the state of Utah. He was tough and fair and even-tempered when folks losing their livelihoods were screaming, yelling, crying for him to reopen things. Rich had a single purpose with a myriad of related purposes — keep our county safe in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
I never once saw him lose his cool — not in a Zoom meeting, not on the radio, not in print or on television. His goal was to keep the virus from spreading and keep our county in the best health possible. And he did — Summit County became the bright light other counties and states looked to trying to understand how we kept our numbers of infections and our numbers of deaths (to date, just one) as low as possible. And what makes this so remarkable is that when this all started and the numbers were first in — we were literally (per capita) number two in the nation with most cases reported. He had support — of course from County Manger Tom Fisher and City Manager Matt Dias and state epidemiologist Angela Dunn. But it was Rich who set the tone.
He is a quiet guy most of the time who loves to fish (he has college degrees in fishery stuff) and he is an extraordinary photographer of the natural world. His wife and son are his ballasts. He is simply a good human who was forced to perform at a superhuman level. And he did.
Karen Marriott is not the least bit confused that she arrived in the world with a marquee name. She also learned at an early age from her grandmother — “for whom much is given much is expected” and for a very long time, she confessed, she found it all daunting. That legacy of family service. So she humbly explained to me one day on the phone during COVID, when she was in her 20s with two small girls (her son had yet to be born), she had asked her grandmother how could she ever fill those legendary family shoes. Her then-90-year-old grandmother — told her a full life was like a good book — you build it chapter by chapter. And one day — you can look back and see the book. So Karen stopped worrying about the book per se and started living her purpose-filled life. Project by project. From years of planning things for her children and their friends to helping in her pastoral role as Relief Society president in the LDS Church — which led to her discovery of hundreds of women hidden in their homes because they lived in fear of repeated domestic violence. And the more she learned the more she did. In the past few years she became most notably — the remarkable fundraiser and awareness raiser for the Peace House — the shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children. But she didn’t just learn from afar — she rolled up her pedigree and drove women to safety. She bought them supplies and helped them with housing and helped them find safe spaces for their children. And she didn’t do that for a few meaningful months. She has done it for many meaningful years. Quietly, of course, shyly really — except when she is speaking about the needs in our community. Then her voice is clear and convincing — we have a crisis and we need to solve it.
And once she fully understood the depth of the crisis and the need, she helped rally Our Town to build a new shelter for victims of domestic violence that would also include transitional housing to give those families a leg up in making it beyond life in the emergency shelter. And lest you think she is all serious all the time — her friends and family are quick to point out she is — “pure fun.”
When she called me at the start of COVID to help her compile some stories about the beginnings of the Peace House we knew each other lightly — socially but mostly professionally. Her deep sharing of her own journey and her gentle nudging me to remember the origins of the Peace House turned our — “do you just have 10 minutes” into hourslong calls. And instead of just gathering a few memories from a few of us, she is creating a book of stories for the 25th anniversary this year. Not “her” book but a chapter in it — nonetheless.
Next year at the parade with the convertibles and the marching bands, we will publicly celebrate these selfless community leaders but for now we are grateful to acknowledge their extraordinary service above self this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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A trip to Reno and beyond is a trip into the past for Teri Orr.