Barbara Tanner: The well-lived life

In her guide to a well-lived life, Barbara L. Tanner led her list of principles with this advice: Be kind. Be considerate. Help wherever you can. Work to better your community.

Tanner, who passed away on April 30, put those words into action throughout her remarkable life. She was 103.

Tanner was a community leader, humanitarian, human rights activist, philanthropist and elementary education alumna of the University of Utah. In 2018, the U honored Tanner with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

“As one of our most exemplary alumna, Barbara honored the University of Utah by her accomplishments and her advocacy of human rights, equality, justice and peace,” said University of Utah President Ruth Watkins. “She championed the creation of a better world for all—especially women and underprivileged youth. She also understood the capacity of the arts to elevate and inspire us.”

She was actively involved with the O.C. Tanner manufacturing company with her husband Norman, who passed away in 2015. Tanner was active in numerous community organizations, including the Utah Symphony, Utah Youth Village, the Friends Board of KUED and The de Tocqueville Society.

The Tanners and their daughter Deb Sawyer created the Barbara and Norman Tanner for Center for Human Rights, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the U. Since 2006, the center has engaged in human rights education and advocacy, including sponsoring an Amnesty International chapter at the U, providing a K-12 educational outreach program and bringing notable human rights activists to campus.

“Barbara would reach out to all people, no matter their position or rank in society,” said Aleta Tew, the center’s associate director. “She would render passionate concern for the oppressed and downtrodden. She was adamant on having negative, unjust and inhuman treatment removed from the shadows and was always excited about the Tanner Centers events shedding light on just causes.”

Tanner lived more energetically and purposefully in her hundreds than most do in the prime of their lives, Tew added. “Her life is one to follow, to emulate, and to celebrate!” she said. “The world is a much better place as a result of her life and her legacy will live on through her dear family, her devoted friends and the causes that she supports.”