Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish
Serving Utah’s Community and Businesses
Janine S. Creager
January 20, 2012
In a figurative sense, a giant is a person of great power and importance: a major figure or legend. It is also the word that the Salt Lake Chamber uses to honor “giants in our city,” individuals who have enjoyed success in business and made great contributions to the community.
But the most recent recipient of this award, the Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, 10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, is uncomfortable with the designation.
“It [the word giant] doesn’t fit with my own sense of myself,” says Irish, who will retire from her ecclesiastical duties this year. “It is a culmination for me here … I’ve done a lot of things and feel good about the choices I’ve made. I see it personally as a celebration of various commitments I’ve made in my life.”
Irish was born and raised in Utah, a daughter of O. C. Tanner whose own contributions in business were highly recognized at the time of her church appointment in 1996. Before she took on that responsibility, however, she was a teacher for a number of years and was already serving as chairman of the board of her father’s company.
“My dad had enormous trust in me to follow him as chairman of the board,” she says. “I have tried to live up to the trust. I was born to a wonderful family. That shaped me in many ways and shaped me in the values I hold [in business and the church].”
Irish never imagined her life unfolding as it has, though her “sense of the sacred,” as she refers to it, came to her early in life.
“I think I encountered God for the first time in the natural world and I remember it vividly,” she recalls. “It was in gardening and taking care of animals that I discovered something sacred and holy. That has continued throughout my life.”
In addition to her positions with the church and O.C. Tanner, Irish is also involved with other pursuits that she loves, namely her work with the Nature Conversancy of Utah and her association with several universities in the state.
“Those are facets of my life that I did not want to give up and I didn’t have to. I believe that everything is connected,” she says.
Irish and her husband, Dr. Frederick Quinn, will be returning to the Washington D.C. area when the next Utah bishop is installed later this year. But she will continue to serve as chairman of the board of the O.C. Tanner Company, returning to Utah often.
“I’ve served the diocese for 14 years and that’s long enough. I’m ready to be a grandmother,” she says referring to her five grandchildren.
Irish sees herself as an open-hearted person, a kind of visionary of sorts, much like her father was.
“[For me] the horizon is more than the immediate present in detail. I call it imagination, visualization, [being able to see] a future better than we have now,” she says. “I would never have had those opportunities if I had been a teacher or just a clergy person. I have been able to participate in the good things in our society.”