Fitting the Pieces All Together

Pat BluthWhen Pat Harmer Bluth expressed an interest in mathematics and engineering, her brother responded, “Girls don’t major in math.”

As a BYU-bound high school senior, Bluth listened to her brother—a decision she has long wished she could go back and change. While she never got the degree she originally wanted, Bluth’s career has been filled with success thanks to her knack for solving complex equations—in life and at work.

In 1971 Bluth earned a BA in in clothing and textiles—the first of her three BYU degrees—putting her math skills to work in pattern drafting. Four days before graduation, she married John Bluth, who was working on a history PhD at the time. “We were going to go off to some ivy-covered campus,” says Bluth of her newlywed days. But life took a dramatic turn when John fell seriously ill. “That’s where my career started,” she says. With a six-month-old baby and a husband to take care of, Bluth returned to BYU for a master’s degree in home economics education and a job teaching textile production and handweaving.

Before passing away in 2004, John experienced many ups and downs in his health, including a kidney transplant. Bluth tried to make sure her career choices allowed John to do things he loved when he was well enough to work. “It was a tricky balance,” she says, “but it worked.”

Bluth also sought out experiences and training that expanded her opportunities, which eventually led her to BYU’s MBA program. She faced discouragement from family and colleagues. Some even questioned her ability to keep up with the math involved in the program. Bluth responded to these negative voices with hard work and determination—earning a scholarship in her first semester and graduating in the top third of her class in 1986.

Out of several job offers, Bluth chose Procter & Gamble because they offered her a slot in manufacturing. “I did not want a job where I would work in a tall building that had carpet in it,” she jokes. Thanks to the company’s system, she worked in typical engineering assignments and learned process improvement just as the concept was taking shape in the manufacturing world.

Bluth worked with the company for twenty years, retiring as their paper products manufacturing and process improvement manager before returning to her roots in the West. This time it was her father’s faltering health that prompted her to take a position with IM Flash as their corporate organization development manager in 2006. Two years later, a chance to work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an opportunity she’d had her eye on for some time, popped up. Beginning as the senior leadership consultant, Bluth led the effort to create and implement the first online HR self-service tool for Church employees. She retired in 2011 as the director of HR operations.

Some might say Bluth’s career seems disjointed, but fitting pieces together is just her kind of challenge. “I’ve learned that I like taking things that seem unrelated and figuring out how to put them together.” In weaving it was interlacing patterns; in teaching it was relating ideas to students; in manufacturing it was bringing raw materials to a finished product. Once she’s handled the first problem, her next question is, “How do we make it better and better?”

Despite having retired twice, Bluth sees no end to this type of problem solving in her life. She’s currently filling her time with a part-time church service mission and by mentoring at the Marriott School, something she’s done every semester for twenty years. Still practicing her weaving trade, she has what she calls “the loom room” in her house in Draper, Utah. Bluth also loves to travel with her daughter, particularly to Israel. And she’s putting that knowledge of the Holy Land to good use working with LDS artists on an enhanced edition of James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ that will be released as an interactive app later this year.

“I’m not going to stop doing things that I love or that benefit people,” Bluth says. “I basically have another twenty-five or thirty years. It’s like having another career ahead of me now.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Marriott Alumni MagazineRead more class notes in Alumni News.