Kimberli Cahoon, Shannon Child and Heather Vlaardingerbroek are not only sisters, but their families also live within a few blocks of each other in the city of Cedar Hills.
Their father, Gary Herbert, has been the governor of Utah since 2009.
It’s not a title, while they were growing up, that they ever imagined their dad holding.
“He’s been governor for seven years and I’m still sometimes, like, ‘Really?’” Heather says. “People are kind of star-struck a little bit by him. ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s the governor!’”
“I never would have expected that my dad would be the governor,” Kimberli says. “To us, it’s kind of puzzling that people are excited to see him in a restaurant and ask for his autograph.”
They each say the title he’s most proud of is being a father and grandfather.
“For us kids, he’s first and foremost our dad,” Heather says. “That’s the most important thing to him, his family and his grandkids. We take great pride in what he’s done for the state and I’m super-proud of him. But the most important thing for him is family.”
Last February, Governor Herbert was in Washington, D.C., preparing remarks for the National Governors Association dinner and reception in the State Dining Room of the White House when his phone rang.
“He was writing this toast for President (Barack) Obama. He could have let it go to voice mail. When he found out everything was OK, he said he would call me back. That sums up my dad. He takes my call when I call.” —Kimberli Cahoon, Gov. Herbert’s daughter
Kimberli was on the other line.
“He was writing this toast for President (Barack) Obama,” she recalls. “He could have let it go to voice mail. When he found out everything was OK, he said he would call me back. That sums up my dad. He takes my call when I call. I get emotional saying that because he is really so busy. He puts in 60-hour work weeks. But when I call him, he’ll answer. He truly puts his family first in spite of his busy schedule. He has not let this position overshadow the importance of being a father and a grandfather.”
Being a great dad has made him a great governor, the sisters say, because he cares about people and he wants to serve others. He governs with a desire to enhance the lives of his children and grandchildren.
“I think part of him serving as the governor is his concern over our future and their future, regarding education and everything else,” Heather says.
Shannon says her dad has long provided good judgment and solid counsel to his children. She remembers a pivotal time in her life, 20 years ago, when she was burdened by many decisions facing her.
“My dad took me out for lunch one day and we talked about my future plans,” Shannon says. “When it was all said and done, he said, ‘I just want you to know that no matter what you believe, and what you think or what you do with your life, no matter what we will love you.’ I needed to hear those words. He was always in tune with me as a child. He always said the right things to me. My siblings and I always turn to my dad and whatever dad says, it’s the right thing to do. It’s helpful to me in my life to know he’s going to give me solid, sound advice. He’s always pointed me in the right direction.”
All of Gary and Jeanette Herbert’s children, and 16 grandchildren, live in Utah County. Kimberli, Shannon and Heather have three brothers.
While Governor Herbert and his wife live in the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City, they have maintained a longstanding tradition of eating Sunday dinner at their home in Orem every week that they can.
“That’s his favorite time of the week, when we get together as an entire family on Sundays,” Heather says. “When he sees the grandkids, his face just lights up. We see him almost every Sunday. That’s one thing my mom told my dad. If we’re going to do this (serve as governor), I want to still come to my ward in Orem and I want us to continue having Sunday dinners and have that sense of normalcy. On occasion, they’ll be out of town on a Sunday but they’re really diligent about making sure we get together as a family.”
Governor Herbert and his wife frequently travel to Utah County for family events — baby blessings, baptisms, graduations, games, talks and Primary programs.
“Whatever it is,” Kimberli says, “he is there.”
“He is so involved with his 16 grandkids. He always finds time,” Shannon says. “If he has free time, he calls and ask if the kids have a game. I’m surprised by all the things he shows up to. Every single grandchild has a very unique relationship with my dad and mom. And I love that. He knows everything about them.”
The best part about being the daughter of the governor
Certainly, being the daughter of the governor has its perks.
They’ve met famous people, from the Dalai Lama to country singer Tim McGraw.
“It’s easier for me to meet someone important that comes through the state than it would be if my dad wasn’t the governor,” Heather says. “A nice perk is being able to get parking sometimes at places. Silly things like that.”
Her biggest thrill was meeting LDS Church presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. For a Christmas party at the Governor’s Mansion, she played a Christmas song on the piano.
“There’s some fun things associated with it,” Heather says. “For my dad, it’s a lot of hard work but for us kids, we get to tag along sometimes.”
“The good side of it is being able to meet great, wonderful people,” Shannon said.
“The thing that I like about him being governor is it’s given me a renewed appreciation for how blessed we are to live where we do, particularly in Utah. I have insights into how things are managed and it’s given me a sense of pride and patriotism for what we have as Americans and as Utahns.” —Kimberli Cahoon, Gov. Herbert’s daughter
Shannon mentions being able to meet Utah homeless advocate Pamela J. Atkinson. “She is like our Mother Teresa. She’s done wonderful things for our state and she’s someone I look up to. We also get to meet celebrities, politicians, all sorts of people. It’s interesting and it’s exciting. You get some VIP treatment. My kids think their grandpa’s pretty great. He’s giving it his all and I like the example he’s set for my kids.”
“The thing that I like about him being governor is it’s given me a renewed appreciation for how blessed we are to live where we do, particularly in Utah,” Kimberli says. “I have insights into how things are managed and it’s given me a sense of pride and patriotism for what we have as Americans and as Utahns. I think a lot of times in our culture, a lot of people don’t pay close attention to what’s happening in politics or in government. I enjoy knowing about what’s happening around us and being informed about the issues. I appreciate the fact that my dad, in spite of the challenges of being in the public eye, is willing to serve.”
“Obviously, I take great pride in what my dad does and the good influence for the (LDS) Church and for the state,” Heather says. “He has an ability to bring two sides together. He always said that he’s conservative in his principles, moderate in his tone and inclusive in his process. He tries to include all sides.”
The downside of being the daughter of the governor
Of course, being the daughter of the governor isn’t always pleasant.
Because Governor Herbert holds the highest public office in the state, he lives in the crosshairs of critics, particularly when he runs for re-election. In June, he faced a challenge from Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson in the primary election. During the campaign, Governor Herbert absorbed plenty of negative attacks, which was difficult for the family.
“It’s not always easy. He takes a lot of scrutiny. Campaigns are hard,” Kimberli says. “We’ve seen that the last couple of months. He’s been hit hard. He’s also our dad and we love him. Hearing the things people say that don’t know him as well is hurtful. You want to stand on a pulpit with a megaphone and tell people that you don’t understand the things you are saying aren’t true. Sometimes the public scrutiny from people who are misinformed is difficult because we love our dad so much. It’s difficult to hear the harsh things people say and the criticisms that seem unfair.”
As it turned out, Governor Herbert earned a resounding victory over Johnson, receiving more than 70 percent of the vote.
“The irony is that he won by sure a big margin in the primary but in his mind he’s thinking, what is it about the other 28 percent that didn’t vote for me? That’s what he was focused on. He’s a people-pleaser.” —Heather Vlaardingerbroek, Gov. Herbert’s daughter
“Campaigns are always tough on the whole family. Even my dad realizes it’s tough on us. We’re not as thick-skinned as he is. It’s hard when you feel like you have to have his back all of the time,” Shannon says. “That’s been tough. It’s OK, I can take the heat of campaigning. If we didn’t have to campaign and go through what we’re going through, the cons would be few. It would be great.”
Another campaign looms this fall as Governor Herbert will face democratic challenger Mike Weinholtz in the November election.
“When criticism happens in the press, and especially during campaign season, when there’s a lot of negative and lies, that’s even harder for us kids and my mom,” Heather says. “Especially when you know things are not true. … My dad’s had to develop a thick skin. The irony is that he won by sure a big margin in the primary but in his mind he’s thinking, what is it about the other 28 percent that didn’t vote for me? That’s what he was focused on. He’s a people-pleaser. He wants to help people. He’s had to learn not to go to social media. We kids sometimes we get pulled into it. We feel like we need to stand up for him. That is definitely the hardest part — all the negative criticism. He has to work hard. He has to work a lot.”
Shannon doesn’t like the public attention that comes with being the daughter of the governor.
“For me, personally, I hate the spotlight. I’m not as articulate as my dad. That’s a little bit tough for me,” she says. “Some people do. For me, I would like to stay in the shadows, which is great, because my name is Shannon Child. One of my really good friends, who I’ve know for about five years, just found out during this campaign that my dad is the governor. I thought he was kidding. … He said, ‘You’ve never talked about it.’ Some people introduce me as the governor’s daughter. But that’s not something I disclose.”
Unifying the family
The way these sisters see it, the trials that campaigns bring have made the family stronger.
“Luckily, we have a very close-knit family. We’re tied tightly together,” Shannon says. “That’s how we’ve been able to get through these campaigns. That’s something our parents instilled in us at a young age. That’s something that’s reflective of our parents, that we’re close as a family. I can’t imagine moving outside the state because it’s too important for me to have my family in my life. No one understands what ultimately what we see and deal with but my sisters and my brothers. Like anything that’s hard, it brings you closer together and there’s a good side and we’re better people because of it for sure.”
And the family has each others backs through it all.
“Luckily, we have a very close-knit family. We’re tied tightly together,” Shannon says. “That’s how we’ve been able to get through these campaigns.” —Shannon Child, Gov. Herbert’s daugher
“My siblings and I were very involved in this last campaign,” Kimberli says. “We have each others’ back and had each other to lean on whenever things were being said. We would call each other and lean on each other and buoy each other up. This unified us and made us closer. In the end, it was hard, but as a family it drew us closer together.”
Though governor is a title they never dreamed their father would hold, these sisters know that he hasn’t forgotten his roots, or the title that means the most to him.
“He was born in American Fork,” Heather says. “Some of his little Utah sayings will come out once in a while in public and we get a kick out of it. It’s still weird to think that our dad is the governor. But he is doing a great job and we love him.”