Huntsman Sr., Billionaire And Philanthropist, Dies

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah billionaire and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., who overcame poverty to become one of the state’s most successful and powerful people, died Friday at age 80.

Huntsman’s longtime assistant Pam Bailey said he died in Salt Lake City but she declined to name a cause of death. The Huntsman Corp., which he founded, said in a statement that Huntsman died at his home, surrounded by family.

Huntsman was the founder and longtime executive chairman of the $11 billion company that refines raw materials that go into thousands of products. He was also the father of Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia and former Utah governor, presidential candidate and ambassador to China and Singapore.

The elder Huntsman and his family have given away more than $1.4 billion, including donations to a Salt Lake City cancer institute that bears his name.

In 1970, Huntsman founded the Huntsman Container Corp., which focused on food packaging and pioneered the clamshell container used for McDonald’s Corp.’s Big Mac hamburger. He formed Huntsman Chemical Corp. in 1982 and more than a decade later, consolidated his companies as Huntsman Corp., producing materials used in a wide range of products, from textiles and paints to plastics and aviation components.

Huntsman stepped down from his role in December and his son Peter Huntsman took over as the company’s leader. His father continued to serve on the company’s board of director and was named chairman emeritus.

“He leaves behind a great company, but even more so, a legacy of optimism, ethical behavior and philanthropy that will serve as his greatest accomplishments,” Peter Huntsman said in a statement.

After amassing his fortune, Jon Huntsman gave more than $100 million in the mid-1990s to establish a research center at the University of Utah dedicated to finding a cure for cancer through human genetics. Huntsman, who lost both his parents to cancer and fought his own battle with the disease, eventually gave more than $400 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and its foundation.

He also wielded his power as a billionaire benefactor to the center. After the cancer institute’s director and CEO was fired in April 2017, Huntsman mounted a public campaign criticizing leaders of the university and took out full-age newspaper advertisements calling the officials “inept and uncaring.” The director and CEO was reinstated a week after her firing and the school’s health care leader and president stepped down.

The billionaire and his family also gave generously to Utah’s homeless shelters as well as more than $50 million to the Armenian people after a 1988 earthquake in that country left thousands homeless.

He also played key roles in state and national politics.

Huntsman was a special assistant to President Richard Nixon and briefly ran his own 1988 campaign for Utah’s governor.