Editor's Note: Eddie Basha, the last of the hometown merchant princes, died last week at age 75. The following article was originally published in 2008 but captures Basha well.
By Jack L. August, Guest Rogue
I answered the cell phone as I headed north on I-17 en route to Prescott. "This is Raul Lopez," the caller said in a heavy accent, "and I saw you on that Channel 8 program Horizon last night, Dr. August." Not knowing the caller I mumbled something about the then-host Michael Grant, but was interrupted with a string of criticisms about my discussion of former senators Carl Hayden, Barry Goldwater and Dennis DeConcini and, to add insult to injury, Mr. Lopez offered, "I don't like that moustache either." I tried to recover but the mystery called moved forward without pause: "The Haydens, Goldwaters and DeCincinis were not responsible for Arizona's growth and development but instead," he continued, "the miners and laborers in the copper mines of Morenci, Miami and Globe, should receive a lot more credit than those three politicians." He was contentious and irritated and I tried to find a diplomatic way to diffuse the situation. This Lopez character, though, seemed unbalanced and out to insult me at any cost.
He then said I could afford to lose a couple pounds and told me to wear a blue shirt and red tie the next time I was on television because what I wore that night had hurt his eyes. Finally, I exploded, asked him for his location, because I was going to turn around, head back to Phoenix, and confront him. I was furious and angrily terminated the call after hurling a few pejoratives of my own. The mystery tormentor tried three more times to call back but I refused to answer. Later, after I arrived in Prescott, I listened to my voice messages and heard, "Geez, Jack, this is Eddie Basha. I didn't mean to piss you off." He got me. I was the next in a long line of innocents caught in the Eddie Basha world of phone pranks.
Bashas', founded by brothers Ike and Eddie Basha Sr., remains a dynamic, growing company in one of the most hotly contested grocery market places in the nation. In many ways, the Basha family that, in 1884, followed its American dream from Lebanon to New York, then to Congress Junction in Yavapai County, Arizona Territory, the mining towns of Gila County, and finally to southeastern Maricopa County in the late 1920s and early 1030s, says much about the history of business and retail enterprises as well as the history of Arizona itself. Put simply, both family and business overcame enormous challenges in the twentieth century; economic fluctuations; increased competition, and unprecedented growth and development that brought unforeseen global influences into local markets. Still, over the past decade, Bashas' has doubled in size and Eddie Jr., whose puzzling calls to friends are discussed like badges of honor in the world of humor, continues to demonstrate public stewardship that honors his family and fellow Arizonans.
Most Arizonans recall his celebrated run for governor in 1994, in which he won a spirited Democratic primary but lost in the general election of Republican J. Fife Symington III. The electoral setback caused barely a ripple in Eddie's commitment to public service. His service to others, generosity, and support for causes in early childhood education, children's health, public education, environmental health and the arts enrich us all.
One philanthropic program that illustrates Eddie's generosity is an initiative at the University of Arizona. Eddie and his wife, Nadine, who spearheaded the successful "First Things First" initiative that focuses on early childhood education programs, are also major influences in the Steele Children's Research Center at the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona. They have devoted countless hours and been generous donors to the Steele Children's Center for many years and without their financial support the Louise Thomas Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research would not have been possible. This reflects not only their passion for children's issues, but also their commitment to making Arizona a better place for our kids.
Eddie, or whoever he wants to be, can call me any time, and I will be glad to take the call. Arizona is a better place with Eddie Basha.
Jack L. August, Ph.D., is Visiting Scholar in Legal History at Snell & Wilmer L.L.P. and the author of ten books on the history of the West, including Vision in the Desert: Carl Hayden and the Hydropolitics of the American Southwest.