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A mayor with a giant heart: Remembering Ted Eyre

Oct 03, 2017 04:52PM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

Ted Eyre and his wife Ruth at the Cottonwood Country Club. (Melissa Worthen/City Journals)

Mayor Ted Eyre: understated, humble, unassuming. These words are not typically bestowed upon politicians, but they were spoken with unanimity in a meeting of Murray City staff and City Council members at City Hall the day after the mayor passed away. On August 25, Eyre succumbed, at age 71, to prostate cancer, a disease that he battled throughout his term in office.

While Eyre’s administration accomplished some notable achievements, especially improvements to Murray Park, his lasting legacy may be his perseverance in battling cancer while serving as mayor.

Murray City Director of Administrative Services Tim Tingey recalled, “He would go many nights without sleep. It was very difficult for him, yet as the trials and pain of cancer increased, his resolve to be effective in everything he did seemed to increase. There were times in city meetings that he would grimace in pain, yet he never complained—he just kept striving to lead.”

In the mayor’s office, next to his desk, sits a framed adage that Eyre received from his daughter Amanda:

“On particularly rough days, when I am sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%, and that is pretty good.”

Tingey recalled that the mayor would often recite that adage to city employees who were going through discouraging times.

Eyre was a native of Rawlins, Wyo. Upon graduating from college during the Vietnam War era, he served a tour of duty in the army as a pilot of U-21 Ute transport planes. He transformed that experience into a career as a pilot, flying for Delta and Western Airlines. During flight school training, he met and married Ruth Peters, with whom he had four children: David, Shellie, Amanda, and Edward. Ted and Ruth were married 40 years.

Upon settling in Murray in 1987, Eyre became involved in the community. He served as the LDS Bishop of the Meadows Ward, Murray Utah South Stake. He also served for eight years on the Murray Parks and Recreation Board.

Eyre was a founding member of the Murray Greenhouse Foundation, which teaches independent-living skills and employment skills to people with disabilities. Sheila Wall, executive director for the Foundation, remembers the early days when the Foundation had a booth at home and garden shows each year to earn the funds needed to obtain property and open the Murray Greenhouse.

During that fund-raising period, Eyre, as a member of the Foundation’s Board, was instrumental in finally constructing a facility in December 2008, providing a safe place for special-needs young adults to go on weekdays.

“We have enjoyed seeing him as he dropped off or picked up his daughter, Shellie, at the Greenhouse over the years, and I personally have been amazed at his ever-present smile on his face as well has his never-wavering positive attitude,” said Wall.

Eyre also helped orchestrate a plan to have the Greenhouse Foundation’s flowers planted  around Murray City.

“A man who did so much good. A man with a giant heart. A man who will be missed deeply by all of those who have been involved with the Murray Greenhouse Foundation over the years,” remarked Wall.

During the 2013 election, Eyre entered a crowded field of eight mayoral hopefuls to replace outgoing Mayor Dan Snarr. During the primary election, Eyre received the most votes and was set to campaign against Salt Lake County Councilman David Wilde in the general election. Wilde, himself a prostate cancer patient, dropped out of the race when his cancer spread to his bones. Eyre was left unopposed, with the exception of write-in candidates, and easily won the election. Wilde passed away in 2015.

“Murray a City without Equal,” was Eyre’s catchphrase during his campaign and throughout his administration. Around the same time he was inaugurated, Eyre received his cancer diagnosis.

Janet Towers, who served first as Eyre’s campaign manager and then as deputy mayor, stated, in the citywide announcement of his passing, that “He had a deep love and commitment for the city and employees. This love and commitment was displayed in everything he did as mayor.”

While Eyre generally presented an outwardly calm and pleasant demeanor, Stephanie Wright, president of the Murray Chamber of Commerce, recalled a time when she saw a different side of the Mayor.

“The Chamber held its first large gala for 2014. The theme was Stars across Murray. We had an Elvis impersonator sing numerous songs.  Before we knew it, Mayor Eyre and Ruth were on the dance floor tearing it up.  We did not know that he and Ruth could dance so well. We all laughed and cheered,” she said.

As his cancer progressed, he still maintained a regular schedule at the office. Eyre adorned his office with his personal favorites, such as a large bust of his hero Abraham Lincoln, a sizeable jar of chocolate bars—mainly Almond Joy—for guests, and a sign that became his trademark: “Today Is a Good Day.” Rhondi Knowlton, the mayor’s executive assistant, recalls him quoting that sign at the end of even the hardest days with his cancer.

Knowlton noted that even as Eyre needed the assistance of a wheelchair to move around, he still made a point of switching to his office chair once he arrived in the office. It was a symbolic gesture to show that he was still going to fulfill the duties of his office, and he would often times exclaim that he loved being able to be there.

Tim Tingey remembered, “He loved to lead by example. He strived to arrive at the office very early to be the first person to begin the work day. He felt that leaders should do this. When he began his tenure as mayor, he immersed himself in the work and would often say it is absolutely exhilarating.”

When it came time to work with the city council, he is remembered for his ability to maintain good relationships with those who thought contrary to his positions. Councilman Brett Hales recalls one acrimonious city council meeting where Eyre and he were not seeing eye-to-eye. After the meeting, Hales and his wife were set to attend a concert with Eyre and his wife, and feeling that the whole evening would be an awkward mess, Eyre instead turned it into a pleasant evening.

Improvements to Murray Park, noticeably the addition of pickleball courts and outdoor exercise equipment, are among the most recognizable achievements during Eyre’s term. Acting Mayor and City Councilwoman Diane Turner believes that Eyre’s greatest legacy will be changes in downtown Murray—the acquisition of property for a new town hall and the purchase of the Murray Mansion and other key buildings to create a new city center for the town.

Eyre attended his last city function on August 16. His illness got progressively worse after that, and he passed away on August 25. He was interred at Murray City Cemetery on August 31.
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