Reactions from Utah’s top political figures poured in on Wednesday evening in response to news of the death of a former Congressman and state lawmaker who was the first person to represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Howard Nielson passed away on Wednesday morning at 95 years old, according to a Facebook post from his son, Jim Nielson.
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to afford an obituary long enough to cover his remarkable life,” Jim Nielson wrote. “We will hold a private graveside service in Richfield in the near future. We hope to hold a larger memorial once larger gatherings are advisable.”
Nielson began his political career in 1967 as a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives, according to Congress’ biographical directory, including as House Speaker between 1973 and 1974.
In 1982, Howard was elected to Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, which had just been created, and served until 1991. He later returned to state politics and served over the 16th Senate District between 1997 and 2000, at which point he was succeeded by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who still holds the seat.
Utah politicians took to social media to honor Nielson and remember him as both an inspiring political figure and mathematical genius.
“Representative Nielson was a strong advocate for Utah during the four terms he served in Congress,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a written statement. “He was a tremendous example of compassionate leadership, a tireless worker, and a brilliant statistician. His life was filled with service. I always admired him for serving in the Utah House of Representatives, including as Speaker of the House, then serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then after leaving Congress to serve a mission for his Church in Australia, he returned to serve in the Utah State Senate. He was a great public servant in many different venues.”
“So sad to read of the passing of a wonderful mentor and friend,” tweeted Mike Mower, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff.
U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said Nielson “lived a life full of hard work and integrity” and that it was Curtis’ “humble honor to try to fill his enormous shoes as Congressman for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.”
“Howard Nielson was the epitome of public service and represented Utah with dignity and distinction,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, expressed sadness to the news of Nielson’s death on Twitter as well, remembering Nielson for dedicating “his life to service and advocating for Utah.”
In a written statement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes sent condolences to Nielson’s family and friends.
“In addition to his distinguished service in both Congress and in the Utah Legislature, Congressman Nielson is well known for his mathematical brilliance and his kindness to others,” said Reyes. “I am grateful for his service to our state and our nation.”
Nielson was born in Richfield in 1924 and graduated from the University of Utah in 1942 before getting a master’s degree from the University of Oregon in 1949 and both an M.B.A and Ph.D from Stanford University in 1956 and 1958, as stated in his Congress biography. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Forces between 1943 and 1946 and later founded the Brigham Young University Department of Statistics.
Nielson’s son, Howard Nielson, Jr., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah in May 2019, despite opposition from Democrats and civil rights groups over “offensive arguments in LGBT rights cases” he had previously made, according to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.