Ward Holbrook

1899 - 1981

Written by Kim R. Burningham
This article first ap
peared in the Davis County Clipper, November 19, 2002  


             A Salt Lake Tribune editorial, July 19, 1981 , eulogized Ward C. Holbrook who had died three days before: “Ward Holbrook invested crucial public service with a conspicuous degree of personal integrity and a sense of purpose.”  In our day, when the same newspaper describes some of our leaders as “ethically challenged,” Holbrook stands as model of those who successfully meet that challenge.     

Crucial public service

            When we water our lawns, care for the poor, worship, even pay our taxes, a good chance exists our actions are profoundly affected by Davis County ’s Ward C. Holbrook.

As a legislator, Holbrook prompted creation of the aqueduct system to bring Weber water to Davis County communities; he was the first chair of the Weber Basin Conservancy Board.  For nearly 20 years, he was at the head of Utah ’s social services programs.  He was the first stake president of two Bountiful L.D.S. stakes.  In 1933, Senator Ward C. Holbrook sponsored the bill enacting Utah ’s sales tax.

During his life, Holbrook’s public service was remarkable; from the point of view of many, overwhelming:

      ·        Member of the Bishopric, West Point, Utah, 1927-1939
·        Member, Davis County School Board, 1927-1933
·        A state legislator for 10 years, 1931-1937, 1945-1949
·        Chairman, Utah Public Service Commission, 1937-1942
·        President, Utah State Farm Bureau, 1937-1942
·        Counselor and Stake President in three different LDS stakes, 1945-1964
·        Vice chair, University of Utah ’s Board of Regents, 1950-52
·        Chair and member, Weber Basin Conservancy District Board, 1950-59
·        Member and chair of the Public Welfare Commission, 1952-1967
·        Executive Director, Utah Department of Social Services, 1967-1971

Besides all that, he served on the state’s 1947 Centennial Commission, hospital boards, mental health councils, Red Cross committees, and chaired the Bountiful Golden Years Center board.  The list goes on.

             Holbrook was devoted to service.  Once he had to decide between a politically important reception at which he would meet President Harry S. Truman and a “modest and humble assignment” related to his church’s welfare program.  “I found that strict compliance [to responsibilities] always brought its own reward,” wrote Holbrook.  He went to the welfare meeting.

             On several occasions, Holbrook felt overwhelmed by the extent of his public service.  “I found myself,” he wrote, “overburdened, not because anything I was doing was distasteful, but rather because time and energy were not sufficient to do well the things that I had voluntarily accepted responsibility to perform.”  Still, Ward served.

 Conspicuous degree of personal integrity

            As the Tribune observed, Holbrook’s service was not only extensive, but also marked with his tenacious sense of integrity.  Ward C. Holbrook was a statesman.  In his autobiography, Holbrook said, “Statesmanship surfaces when the person with a…responsibility completely disregards selfish motivations and demonstrates true wisdom and vision in formulating a course of action….”         

            Holbrook lived the definition.  Likely, that is why both Republicans (as conservative as Governor J. Bracken Lee) and Democrats (liberal Governor Calvin Rampton, for instance) appointed him to significant statewide positions.

            Ward desired to be entirely honest.  In his autobiography, he struggled with accuracy.  “I felt…that if one did not tell all that some deceit would be perpetrated.  Thought of this delayed for several years my entering upon this project [writing his autobiography].” 

Reaching for his goal of total honesty, Ward includes confessions of his own inadequacies, a trait not often found in contemporary autobiographies.  For instance, he confides: “I have a full measure of the lusts of the earthly flesh.”  He also admitted to shortcomings in the way he treated his wife, devoted and much-loved Mabel.  Typically, he wished newlyweds to “be as happy as my wife and I try to make other people think we are.”  A reader, however, is quick to observe that Holbrook's confessed faults were often miniscule, compared with his genuine and monumental honesty.

            Holbrook’s tenacious commitment to complete honesty is also illustrated by his candid statements in church testimonials.  A church leader who exhibited strong devotion to his LDS beliefs, still, Holbrook was very particular about that to which he testified.  “I have not been as outspoken as some other people,” he explained.  “Whether it was because I wanted to be positive I knew what I was talking about or whether something else, I’m not sure, but I have never stood up and hammered the desk and said, ‘I know this and I know that.’  I have observed in my lifetime that a lot of people know too many things that aren’t so.” 

            “I can usually say, ‘I believe.’  I can easily say, ‘I’m trying to live.’ But to know something is quite a different matter with me.”  In all matters, Ward C. Holbrook showed integrity.

Sense of purpose

Ward was born in Bountiful in 1899, and raised in the family’s rock home at 650 North Main .  He was the ninth of ten children, only one a girl.  From his parents, Ward’s sense of purpose grew.     “When a very small boy,” writes Ward, father “would hand me his wallet and send me to buy some trifling item.  The purse might contain a hundred times as much money as was needed….He never looked in it before he gave it to me or examined it, in my presence, when returned.  The sense of…responsibility that I felt…was almost more weighty than in later years when the legislature gave me a hundred million dollars to spend on the programs of the Department of Social Services.”

            Ward helped his father who was truck gardener, sometimes rising before 2 a.m. to haul produce to the Farmer’s Market in Salt Lake City .

Ward sat upon the dirt floor in the basement of the Bountiful L.D.S. Tabernacle, and was a first hand witness to the marvels of indoor plumbing, phonographs which he called talking machines, and the amazing first automobile.    

Ward & Mable Wedding Photo - 1919He attended the Stoker School .  During high school he met Mabel Ford of Centerville .  They were married in 1919, and moved to the other end of the county, a small home on a 20-acre plot in West Point .  There they farmed for 20 years, but finally returned to Bountiful in 1939.  

            Mabel and Ward parented six children: Ruth, Jean, Phil, Alan, Ben, and Paul.  They also had two foster daughters.  Phil was the first to die.  The precocious young man was drafted into the army and was shot at Okinawa during World War II.  The loss of this son was one of life’s most traumatic moments for the Holbrooks.

            In a letter to the deceased Phil, Ward summarized his feelings: “Your clean red blood flowed on the slopes of Zebra Hill near the road to Shuri Village and your cross…stands a hallowed memory to the whole of the U.S.A.   The pain of Phil’s’ death remained with Ward for many years.

            Finally, in 1971, Ward retired from full-time employment.  He never retired, however, from service.  “I have no desire to ‘rest,’” he wrote.  He died in 1981 at age 82.

            During all his life Ward exhibited the same remarkable sense of purpose.  “I have within me talents in embryo that cry out for development,” he said.  “The hurdles…that are constantly before one must be surmounted day by day until the end of the course….”  Holbrook saw life as leading to a high goal.  Reflecting upon his concept of God, Ward observed that “there is born with me as the greatest of my desires, the hope to attain a similar status.” 


Material for this column of “ Davis People” came from Ward’s autobiography available in the Bountiful Library; an interview conducted by L. Don LeFevre, October 20, 1979 ; the Salt Lake Tribune, July 18-19, 1981 , with additional help from two of Ward’s living children, Ruth and Ben.  

This article is to be included in a forthcoming book of biographies of deceased citizens of South Davis County.



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