ima County Supervisor Richard Elías died Saturday, March 28, at age 61.
Elias died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack, said state Rep. Andres Cano, a close friend of Elías who had worked in his county office.
“We woke to the news that a community warrior and advocate of social justice is gone,” said Cano.
Cano learned how to be “an advocate for those without a voice” from Elías, a Democrat who had represented District 5 since his appointment in 2002. He said he was inspired by the way Elías worked to sound the alarm about the spread of COVID-19 in the community and just last week, voted to keep gathering places such as bars, theaters and gyms closed last week.
“His last week was spent sending this message that the community was taking the coronavirus outbreak very seriously,” Cano said. “What a noble way to leave us.”
A fifth-generation Tucsonan, Elías became active in union politics while working in a grocery store to support himself while attending the University of Arizona. He later worked at various nonprofit affordable housing agencies, where he developed a “passion” for ensuring people had a roof over their head, according Supervisor Sharon Bronson.
“He strongly believed that adequate housing is a human right and that belief informed everything he did as a Supervisor for District 5,” Bronson said. “Richard and I often agreed, but when we disagreed, he was always respectful, honest and open to compromise.”
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry called Elías “the people’s champion on the board, and the champion of the rank and file County employees. He always thought of others first, especially the less fortunate, and he worked tirelessly to improve the incomes and living conditions of all Pima County residents, but especially the poor.”
Justice of the Peace Ray Carroll, a Republican who served alongside Elías on the Board of Supervisors before declining to seek reelection in 2016, said he respected Elías’ commitment and expertise in areas such as healthcare, the environment and housing.
“We had a lot of successes, a lot of disagreements, but we never failed in trying to do our best for our community,” Carroll said.
Elías was appointed to the Board of Supervisors to fill the seat left vacant by Democrat Raul Grijalva, who resigned to seek the congressional seat he still holds today.
“Poet warriors are rare in politics, and we just lost a good one,” Grijalva said. “I will miss him schooling me about the music he loved, recommending good reads, and discussing—in a deeper way—why he and I do what we do including the frustrations, losses, occasional wins, and humor of our public lives.”
Grijalva concluded his tribute with Elías’ frequent sign-off: “As Richard would say: ‘Resist. Much love.’”