Former Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup has died after battling lung disease. He was 84.
The retired Hughes/Raytheon executive beat the odds to win three terms as a Republican in Democrat-dominated Tucson. A technocrat, Walkup worked to structurally stabilize the city’s budget but set the stage for downtown revitalization, although much of the development happened after he left office.
Walkup loved the role of mayor, whether it was dressing in a three-piece suit for a State of the City address or wearing a turn-of-the-century get-up complete with a top hat for celebrations at the historic downtown train station.
"The joy of the job," he once said, "is being with people."
Walkup’s perpetual optimism drew jeers from his critics, but he was always able to deliver lines like “Tucson is the greatest city in the United States” with sincerity. Republican Kathleen Dunbar, who served with Walkup on the Tucson City Council from 2001 to 2005, once described Walkup as the “mayor from central casting.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, who served with Walkup after her 2007 election to the Tucson City Council, called Walkup “a born statesman” who “always strived to create the best Tucson possible.”
“His leadership on issues ranging from economic development, water security, and transportation positioned Tucson for a strong recovery out of the Great Recession,” Romero said. “He always had a vision to create a lively, bustling downtown for Tucsonans to eat, work, live, and play. His advocacy in helping secure a TIGER grant to build the modern streetcar laid the groundwork for the thriving downtown we see today.”
Romero said she would “truly miss Bob for his kind demeanor, his friendship and advice, and his everlasting vision to create the best Tucson possible.”
Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, who served with Walkup from 20009 to 2011, said Walkup was "a throwback to the days when we could actually sit together, talk about serious policy issues and look for common ground solutions that involved compromise from each side. It wasn't a time of such divided hyper-partisanship. We could actually dialogue. He brought that character trait to the table because at the end of the day, Bob truly cared about the entire community. And at the end of the day, Bob Walkup was simply a good and honest person. I enjoyed working with him, and will forever value our friendship."
Under Walkup’s leadership, the city made major budget changes, including the introduction of a trash-collection fee, the creation of impact fees for development and a transfer of the library system to Pima County. While his initial push for a transportation tax was rejected by voters, it set the stage for the countywide half-cent transportation tax later passed by voters in 2006.
Though he was an underdog in his 1999 race against Democrat Molly McKasson, Walkup brought over enough moderate Democrats and independents to win the office. Four years later, he brought together the same coalition to defeat former mayor Tom Volgy. In his third and final run for office, the Democrats didn’t field a candidate against him.
He met his second wife, Beth, at a fundraiser for Tucson Children’s Museum. Both were big supporters of the downtown playhouse for children as well as many other arts groups and nonprofit organizations.
His son Jonathan said on Facebook he would "cherish the memories of an amazing childhood. He was everything a dad could be and more. I was/am so proud of him - he was truly an inspiration and my hero. I will miss him greatly, but am so happy he is now able to reconnect and dance with Julia, my little sister and his beloved youngest daughter."
An Army veteran, Walkup had a career for more than three decades in the aerospace industry, beginning as an engineer and finishing as an executive with the Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon). He was a tinkerer throughout his life and delighted in working on cars.