The Eccles School community has lost a hero and a giant. Robert H. Garff, 77, passed away from coronavirus complications on Sunday, March 29.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Bob Garff, who has had an incredible impact on education throughout the state,” said Taylor Randall, dean of the David Eccles School of Business. “He, like his father and many of his children and grandchildren, was a proud business graduate. I am profoundly grateful for his support of our students, and my deepest condolences to his wife, Kathi, and their family.”
Garff was a huge believer in the power of education to transform lives, and he and his family were generous donors to the Eccles School and the University as a whole. The Garff building on campus is named for him and his wife, Kathi (who has also been sickened by the virus but continues to recover at home). The building was made possible by a $12 million gift from the Garff children in honor of their parents.
The family has always lived by the motto “We want to change the world the best way we know how, through educating one child at a time,” Kathi told the crowd at the building’s dedication ceremony in October 2018.
The building houses the four MBA and all Executive Education programs offered by the school, influencing hundreds of students and community members who receive education in its classrooms. In addition to the Garff building, the Eccles School is also home to the $3 million Ken Garff Classroom Pavilion inside the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building. It replaced the 1960s-era Kendall D. Garff building during a major campus expansion. Bob was instrumental in the funding of both entities, creating a legacy of philanthropy and a thirst for education that is carried on by his descendants. The family has also pledged half of the $35 million end zone expansion project at the University’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In addition to these large scale gifts, Garff also contributed generously to the already established Kendall D. Garff Endowed Chair, in honor of his father. The chair provides funding for the School to recruit and retain top faculty in business administration. It is currently held by professor Paul Hu. He also supported a wide variety of other initiatives, including entrepreneurship and ethics programs, as well as faculty research. Both passionate art lovers, Bob and Kathi were patrons of Utah artists and shared their collection with the Eccles School, filling their namesake building with high-quality, personally-curated art works. The collection is currently valued at more than $800,000.
In addition to his philanthropic support, Garff served as a member of the David Eccles School of Business’s National Advisory Board, and once held a two-year term as board chair. Garff was an advocate and champion of the Eccles School, and close confidant to Dean Randall.
Garff was the longtime chairman of the Ken Garff Automotive Group, where his philanthropic dedication to education continued through the the family’s Success in Education Foundation. Passionate about improving the educational opportunities for Utah students, Bob and Kathi started the foundation to promote excellence in education, increase literacy, and help Utah students prepare for post-secondary education. The Foundation administers three educational programs: “Keys to Success,” “Road to Success,” and “Code to Success” for Utah students. These innovative programs provide school administrators, faculty, and staff members with the tools to motivate students to achieve academic success. The program has awarded more than $134 million in scholarships to Utah students with support from local businesses and universities.
Garff was also a well-known figure in the Utah community, serving in the Utah Legislature as Speaker of the House from 1985—1987. He played a key role in the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, serving as the chair of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
The Eccles School faculty, staff, students and alumni all mourn along with the Garff family, and send our best wishes to Kathi for a quick recovery. Bob’s impact on the Eccles School – and the Utah business community – will endure for many years to come.