From space, you realize the boundaries of earth don’t matter. The boundaries of skin color, or politics, of difference; the reasons we fight and kill each other none of that matters in space. If we could have this perspective, we would treat each other better.
Edwin Jacob Garn, “Jake” was born October 12, 1932 in Richfield, Utah during the midst of the Great Depression. His parents were Jacob Edwin “Ed” Garn and Fern Christensen. He had two siblings, Martha Janet Redenbaugh and Mildred Bingham.
Garn graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City in 1951. He continued his education at the University of Utah and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance in 1955. Jake truly bleeds red and has been a UTE fan since he attended his first football game with his father for his 5th birthday in 1937.
His father, Ed Garn, was his hero and created his desire to be a pilot. Ed Garn was a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War I and was the first native-born Utahn to hold a pilot’s license in the state of Utah.
He was one of a handful of pilots chosen to participate in delivering the first airmail in Utah. Ed was the first director of Aeronautics and was instrumental in developing many of the airports in Utah. A literal pioneer of Aviation in Utah.
Ed passed his love for flying onto his son, Jake, and by the time Jake was 15 years old, he received his own pilot’s license. Little did he know, his early love for flying would lead him to receiving some of the highest honors as a pilot.
During his time at the University of Utah, he was recruited into the Navy ROTC program and received a full scholarship. He joined the Navy on active duty in 1956. Garn completed flight training in Pensacola, FL and received his Navy aviator wings in Corpus Christi, TX in 1957.
From there he was assigned to fly the Martin P5M Marlin seaplane in Oak Harbor, Washington. He was deployed to Iwakuni, Japan which became a place he always loved. During his service in Japan, Garn flew low-altitude reconnaissance missions along the entire coast of China. Garn has said he got to know the coast of China better than he has ever known the coasts of the U.S. After his momentous space flight, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
His experience as a US Naval pilot would lay the groundwork for the pivotal decisions he would make during his years in public service.
By 1960, Garn completed his Naval commitment, but continued to serve in the Naval Reserve and in the Utah National Guard flying supply and recovery missions to Vietnam. Initially, Garn intended to pursue a career as a naval officer.
However, after starting a family, he decided to leave the navy and work as an insurance executive. A pivotal decision as it would give him the knowledge for his crucial work as the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
Senator Garn recalls being sent by the Utah National Guard to a city commission meeting to discuss an issue regarding the airport. After a heated discussion with a city official, the commissioner suggested he run for office if he didn’t like the way things were run. Garn accepted the challenge and ran for commissioner in 1967. He was elected and this was the start of his political career.
Garn was elected as mayor of Salt Lake City in 1971, and created a name for himself as he concentrated his efforts on the redevelopment of downtown Salt Lake City. He always considered being mayor his preferred political office and calls the City and County Building his favorite building. In 1974, at the prompting of friends and colleagues, he entered the race for senate and was elected as a United States Senator. He served as the ranking Republican of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affair Committee.
Garn was re-elected to the senate in both 1980 and 1986. He won his second senate race with 74% of the public vote, the largest victory in a statewide race in Utah history.
During his time in the Senate, Garn strongly advocated for the people of Utah and America. He successfully planned and executed the Central Utah Water project, a system that would bring water resources to counties across the state. His previous experience in banking helped him co-write the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 182, a law that deregulated the savings and loan industry, helping forestall the Savings and Loan Crisis. His foresight, knowledge, and leadership were huge assets as he fought for his beliefs.
During his second term as a Senator, Garn became the head of the Senate appropriations committee that dealt with NASA. At a hearing of his subcommittee his bold opening remarks to NASA officials included, ‘My first question,” he said, ”is when do I get to go on the space shuttle?”
After years of working with NASA, officials announced that Senator Jake Garn would join their November 1984, their 1985 Space Shuttle Discovery flight as a payload specialist. During the flight, he logged 108 orbits and 2.8 million miles making him the first public official to go to space. He is the only pilot in aviation history to have wings from the Navy, Air Force, and NASA.
In 1992, Garn received one of aviation’s most coveted honors, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, bestowed annually by the National Aeronautics Association. Dedicated to Garn for “a lifetime of public service in government and active participation in all segments of U.S. aviation, as a military and civilian pilot, astronaut, and as one of the U.S. Senate’s most effective aerospace spokesmen and legislators.”
After over sixteen years of public service, Garn did not seek reelection in 1992. In a later interview, he said that he retired from the Senate after his third term primarily for his family.
Jake Garn married Hazel Rhae Thompson on February 2, 1957. They had four children Jacob Wayne, Susan Rhae, Ellen Marie and Jeffrey Paul. In 1976, Garn’s wife, Hazel, was killed in a tragic automobile accident. Garn later married Kathleen Brewerton in 1977. Kathleen brought a son to the marriage, Brook Bingham and they had two children, Matthew and Jennifer. In 1986, his daughter, Susan, was suffering from progressive kidney failure as a result of diabetes. That year, he donated his kidney to his daughter to prolong her life. Senator Garn dedicated much of his life to public service, but his first priority was always his family.