Gunnison Valley doctor, pillar of the community is the latest casualty of COVID

Dr. Dwight Inouye in his medical office in July 2020.

GUNNISON—Dr. Dwight Inouye, 71, a family physician in the Gunnison Valley for 40 years who also served 23 years on the South Sanpete School Board, served briefly as a Sanpete County commissioner and held numerous leadership roles in Boy Scouts, died Tuesday of complications related to COVID-19.

Private funeral services for family members will be held Friday with the time to be announced. The services will be live streamed at http://www.maglebymortuary.com. Burial will be in Cottonwood Heights in Salt Lake County. 

His death was announced just before noon Wednesday on the Gunnison Valley Hospital Facebook page. 

“With heavy hearts we announce the passing of our friend and colleague, Dr. Dwight Inouye,” the post said. “Dwight has been a doctor in our valley for over 40 years, starting his practice in Gunnison in July of 1980. 

“His passing has left an enormous void in the lives of his sweet wife, his children, friends and many, many patients in our valley. We love you, Dr. Inouye.” 

The announcement sparked an outpouring of tributes and condolences from throughout Sanpete County and beyond. By 10 p.m., 126 people had posted comments on the hospital Facebook page.

Mayor John Scott of Ephraim, wrote, “So, so sorry to hear of the passing of Dr Inouye. He was a pillar of the community and a loving husband and father. I grieve at the loss of his influence upon us.”\

Mayor Cynthia DeGrey of Spring City posted, “He was a wonderful doctor and person. What a terrible loss to us all.”

Many of the comments came from patients who recalled Dr. Inouye delivering their babies, diagnosing an illness that had baffled specialists, being not just a physician but a friend to generations of their families, and even saving family members’ lives. 

“This makes me heartbroken,” Jerilynn Miyatake of Cottonwood Heights wrote. “Not only was he a wonderful doctor, he was so loved by all of the community for all of his services to the Gunnison Valley.”

Jennifer Barton Bailey of Ephraim wrote, “We are going to miss this wonderful man greatly. He has been such an amazing doctor and friend to our families for years.”

“We are devastated by the loss of this humble, great and caring doctor, Kathy Bastian of Aurora, Sevier County, wrote. “He got us though so many challenges and crisis situations with so much kindness and love.”

Kim Christensen Gordon of Ephraim wrote, “We are so devastated to hear this. He has been such a great doctor and friend to generations of our family.” 

Gordon said Dr. Inouye saved his son’s life when he performed an emergency C-section. “He delivered three of my children and two of my grandchildren. We will miss him immensely.”

Karen Prisbrey of Gunnison posted, “He was committed to his medical practice and to many activities in our community; to The Church of Jesus Christ where he served in many positions including bishop; (to) the Forth of July celebration at our city park; and especially to Boy Scouting programs. 

“He was a great influence on the young men in our community. I recall his giving medical attention to youngsters on camping trips including my son.”

Inouye was born Feb. 6, 1949 in Richfield to Charles and Bessie Inouye. Charles grew up in California and Bessie in Washington. During World War II, both ended up in a Japanese internment camp near Cody, Wyo. That’s where they met and married. 

After the war, they converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became successful farmers of land outside Sigurd and outside Gunnison.

A year after starting his medical practice, Dr. Inouye was elected to the South Sanpete School Board and served continuously until 2004.

Later, he recalled that when he first came on the school board, the school buildings in the district were in terrible shape, but the district didn’t have the money to fix them. 

In 1995, the board met with then Gov. Michael Leavitt. The governor said he was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do. 

The board next stop was the office of Dr. Scott Bean, a former superintendent in Sanpete County who had become state superintendent. Bean said he had $8 million left in a special loan fund and could loan it out at 1 percent interest. South Sanpete got the loan and fixed up the schools.

“That was one of the high points of my time on the board,” Dr. Inouye said. “As I look back over the years, back then we had a hard time just housing students, now we have two modern high schools, two middle schools, and we have made a lot of improvements in our elementary schools.”

“Dwight has been one of our very best board members,” said Paul Gottfredson, who was business manager for the district at the time. “He and I squared off a time or two over some things. He’s hardheaded and so am I. But he always had the best interests of the school district at heart.”

In 2008, Inouye made a foray into county politics that may have contributed indirectly to Spencer Cox’s rise to the governorship.

In February 2008, Bruce Blackham of Gunnison, who had served several years on the Sanpete County Commission, resigned. Inouye was appointed to fill the balance of Blackham’s term, which ran through the end of the year.

A few months later, Inouye filed to run for the seat in the Republican primary—and so did Cox, who was mayor of Fairview at the time. There was no Democratic opposition, so a win in the primary pretty much assured winning the position.

On election night, the race was too  close to call. Cox was ahead by 37 votes, but more than 60 absentee and provisional ballots were outstanding.

Cox and Inouye ended up splitting the outstanding ballots—each got 34. So Cox still won by a 37-point margin. After serving as a commissioner, Cox was elected to the Utah House of Representatives. During his first term in the Legislature, Gov. Garry Herbert appointed him as lieutenant governor. That set the stage for his successful run for governor this year.

At a youth, Inouye had been an Eagle Scout. Once settled in Gunnison, he took on a succession of roles in Scouting, including Scoutmaster, Eagle post advisor, Varsity Scout coach and district commissioner.

He received the Chief Sowiett Award, the highest honor in Sanpete County Scouting, and the Silver Beaver, one of the highest awards given by the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts. 

He played a key role in land acquisition and development of the 560-acre Mountain Dell Scout Ranch east of Mt. Pleasant. 

In 2012, he received the Outstanding Eagle Scout  Award, given to the top 1 percent of Eagle Scouts in the nation. The award recognizes outstanding achievement at the local, state or regional level. 

Evlynn Peterson, Inouye’s assistant in his medical practice, said Inouye was making plans for retirement prior to contracting COVID. She said plans call for Dr. Bryce Barton, son of Doug and Marianne Barton of Manti, who is currently a resident at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, to take over Inouye’s practice. 

Inouye is survived by his wife, Jeannie; eight children and 27 grandchildren. He is also survived by his siblings, Warren, Elizabeth Ann and Charles. 

He was preceded in death by his parents and by his siblings, Charlotte and Dillon.