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Tanner Family Bios


Obert Tanner

Obert Clark Tanner

Obert Clark Tanner was born September 20, 1904, to Annie Clark and Joseph Marion Tanner. As a boy, Tanner learned habits of hard work on his uncle's farm, on railroad and construction crews, and in a lonely season herding sheep for his father in the Canadian Rockies. He served a mission for the LDS church in Germany, recently devastated by the First World War.

In debt after his mission, Tanner returned to a job teaching seminary for his church. An urgent desire to pay off his obligation so that he could return to school inspired his entrepreneurial spirit. He began selling seminary graduation pins and class rings from the back of his car and founded the O. C. Tanner Company.

For the rest of his life, he juggled twin passions: education and business. In the early years of his marriage to Grace Adams, Obert studied and taught at Stanford and Harvard universities, commuting back to Salt Lake City to supervise the growing Tanner company on its way to becoming one of the largest manufacturers and retailers of corporate recognition awards in the country. In 1945 he assumed a faculty position at the University of Utah, where he taught each morning for twenty-nine years, spending afternoons and weekends in his business pursuits.

He received numerous honorary degrees, was a Fellow of Cambridge and Oxford universities, and was a member of the British Academy. In 1978 he permanently endowed the distinguished Tanner Lectures on Human Values, presented annually at several universities in England and the United States. Among his many national and international awards are the United Nations Peace Medal (1978) and the National Medal of Arts (1988).



Grace A. Tanner

Born in Parowan, Utah, on November 30, 1906, Grace was the sixth child of Luella Redd Adams and Thomas Davenport Adams, both descendants of early southern Utah settlers. Her parents' first year of marriage was spent on an LDS mission in Samoa. They returned to raise a family of eleven children. They worked in dairy farming and held various church and civic positions. Grace married Obert Clark Tanner of Farmington, Utah, in the Salt Lake Temple on August 5, 1931.

Obert and Grace Tanner

Grace and Obert's life together was one of deep affection and mutual respect. They traveled and studied widely, eventually returning in 1944 to Salt Lake City where Obert taught philosophy at the University of Utah and built a manufacturing company that awards recognition for corporations worldwide.

A stalwart supporter of her husband's adventures at every turn, Grace was a vivacious and distinguished woman in her own right. After studying for three years at the University of Utah, she graduated from Southern Utah University in Cedar City and held an honorary doctoral degree.

Grace and Obert enjoyed their shared charitable work, creating a legacy of giving for the arts, education, and the public good. Grace was devoted to the Red Butte Gardens and the Utah Nature Conservancy. Two other projects, named for Grace and Obert, are the Gift of Music and the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah.


Carolyn Tanner Irish

Carolyn Tanner Irish was born to Obert Clark Tanner and Grace Adams Tanner on April 14, 1940, in Salt Lake City. She was the fourth of six children. In her youth, she participated in programs in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and public schools.

As a teenager, she was one of four students in the United States selected to study in New Zealand in the American Field Service Exchange. She graduated as valedictorian of her 1958 class at Olympus High School and matriculated at Stanford University. In 1962 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan.

Carolyn Tanner Irish

Irish entered the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1980 when few women were in ministry and graduated cum laude in 1983. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1984 and served urban, suburban and rural congregations in Virginia and Michigan. In 1986 she became an archdeacon in the Diocese of Michigan, where she lived until 1988. In 1996 Irish was elected bishop of the Diocese of Utah, becoming only the fourth woman to be elected a bishop in The Episcopal Church. She served as bishop of Utah until 2010. Irish had a deep love for the landscape and the people of Utah.

Carolyn and her family have been much more than generous and gracious donors to our college. They have for generations helped define the place of the Humanities on our campus and in our community. The Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center has become our college's centerpiece, supporting faculty and student research and important outreach efforts. We are fortunate to have the Tanner Center, and the building that houses it, the Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building, as material reminders of her contributions, but it's all the more important for us to keep in mind her greater gifts to us, the devotion to intellectual inquiry and exchange and commitment to articulating and promoting human values.

Stephen Tanner Irish

Stephen Tanner Irish, son of Carolyn Tanner Irish, has been a member of the Board of Directors for nearly three decades, bringing with him a unique background in philosophy, a field of study highly valued by his grandfather, Obert C. Tanner. After several years of working within the company, Stephen returned to academia and now serves as a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Utah. In addition to his teaching duties, Stephen continues to research and write about the history of science. Maintaining the philanthropic legacy of the company is a top priority for him. Stephen Tanner Irish

Stephen understands the significance of workplace culture to the success of an organization and is highly respected for his insightful mind. He holds a philosophy degree from Stanford and a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge. For over 20 years, Stephen has also served as a trustee of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. When he's not working, Stephen can be found at his local CrossFit, where he stays active and maintains a healthy lifestyle.

"The Tanner Center has a special role on the campus and in the community.  It exemplifies Obert and Grace Tanners' desire to support work in the humanities and to make this accessible to a wider public.  Our family feels proud to see the way it has grown and continues to thrive.  It will be exciting to see what the future brings."  - Stephen Tanner Irish


Last Updated: 4/12/23