Gov. Gary Herbert praised the 77-year-old Redford for his celebrated movie career. Some of Redford's movies, including "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Jeremiah Johnson," were filmed in Utah.
"I think we take him for granted," the governor said. "He's been here for so long, and he's been so successful. It's really quite remarkable, and yet he calls Utah home. I'm appreciative of that. I think Utah is a better place because Robert Redford does call Utah home."
Redford noted that he and elected officials in the audience, many of them on the opposite end of the political spectrum from him, share common ground.
"Whatever differences may exist, we can all come together and agree on one thing, and that's our love of this state and our country and the people," the environmental activist said.
The sold-out, $200-a-plate gala featured a Native American dance and invocation, singing by Tony-winning actress Audra McDonald and a video presentation highlighting Redford's cultural and economic contributions to Utah.
James Redford hailed his father's passion for Utah, saying it has been passed down to the actor-director's children and grandchildren.
"The love he has for Utah is visceral, it's primal, and it's deeply personal," James Redford said. "We all live in different places, but Utah will always be our deep home."
Herbert said it was no easy task to get Redford to accept the recognition.
"I've been trying to do it for about three years," he said. "(He) likes his privacy so he's been a little reluctant to let us honor him, but I've been working hard and I think I wore him down."
Redford told the crowd, "I think it makes me shy, to be honest."