Olene Smith Walker was the first woman to serve as governor of the state of Utah. As of 2014, she is the state’s only female governor.
Walker was born on November 15, 1930, in Ogden, Utah. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, her master’s from Stanford University, and her doctorate from the University of Utah.
As a civil servant, she served for eight years in the state legislature, which included a term as Majority Whip. She led the Healthcare Reform Task Force that resulted in the establishment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She served as chair of the Workforce Task Force, which developed the Department of Workforce Services. Health care reform, workforce development, education programs, and budget security measures were the focus of her initiatives.
She was elected Utah’s first woman lieutenant governor, with Michael O. Leavitt as governor, and began serving in that capacity in January 1993. She assumed the office of governor in 2003 when Leavitt was nominated by President George W. Bush to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Controversially, Walker’s party did not select her as a candidate for the 2004 general election. She held the office of governor until the end of Leavitt’s term in January 2005.
The Utah County Democratic Party gave her its first distinguished service award in 2010.
She was married to Myron Walker and they had seven children. She and her husband served in New York City as International Affairs missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She passed away on November 28, 2015.