Arizona grocery magnate, education advocate, philanthropist, and one-time gubernatorial candidate Eddie Basha, Jr., passed away Tuesday afternoon.
He was 75.
In a letter sent to employees, Edward “Trey” Basha III, president and CEO of Bashas’ grocery stores, confirmed his father’s death.
“To us, and to many of you, Eddie was always larger than life,” Edward Basha said. “Eddie never saw himself that way. He considered himself to be a Bashas’ member, no different than any other, and he considered Bashas’ members to be part of his family.”
A cause of death wasn’t immediately released, but representatives of the Basha family said he had been failing in health for some time, The Associated Press reported.
Basha is survived by his wife and six sons.
Basha’s grandfather and father opened the first of what would become the family owned supermarket chain of the same name – Bashas’ – in 1932.
He took over the business in 1968, at age 31, after the death of his father; similarly, Edward Basha III was elevated to president and CEO just this month, and also replaced his father as chairman of the board at the Chandler-based company. Eddie Basha, Jr., was slated to serve as chairman emeritus.
The Basha family has overseen the company’s growth from its first Chandler location more than 80 years ago to what it is today: a 130-plus location company that has weathered multiple economic downshifts and a 2009 bankruptcy reorganization to still stand as one of Arizona’s top truly-local businesses. All but two of the Bashas’ locations are in Arizona, and the company also operates Food City and AJ’s Fine Foods locations throughout the state.
“During Eddie’s lifetime he faced many challenges, the last few years being among the most challenging,” Edward Basha III wrote in the letter to employees. “But his desire to serve the people of the state he loved so well, and to take care of the members that he cared for so much, always gave him strength in the face of adversity.”
Eddie Basha’s voice was easy to pick out on company radio and TV spots, and the family name is as recognizable as ever, thanks to the bold red cursive font on the side of more than 100 stores throughout the state of Arizona.
But the Eddie Basha legacy, in the East Valley and beyond, likely goes well beyond the sale of produce or packaged goods.
"Sad & heartbroken to hear about the passing of Eddie Basha,” posted Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on Twitter. “Champion for education, best thing we can do to honor him is support our schools.”
In addition to roads named after the family in Chandler, Basha himself – a graduate of Chandler High School – served on the Arizona Board of Education and the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for the state’s public universities; the family name is also emblazoned on the side of two schools in the city – Basha Elementary School and Basha High School.
He also unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994, losing to incumbent Fife Symington.
According to The Associated Press, friends said Basha and his company gave and raised millions of dollars for worthwhile causes around the state for years. He also was known to hand $100 bills out to panhandlers and singlehandedly bailed out countless community-service groups.
Within minutes of news of Basha’s passing breaking early Tuesday evening, “Eddie Basha” became one of Arizona's top five trending topics on Twitter. As former Bashas’ store employees shared their encounters with their former boss, Valley personalities, in addition to Stanton, also took to the short-form social networking site.
“A true inspiration for Chandler and Arizona,” said Chandler city councilman Jeff Weninger.
Added Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was recently hospitalized after falling and injuring his shoulder: “Sad to hear about great Arizonan Eddie Basha. He always thought of others; even reached out to me in recent hospital stay.”
Sen. Jeff Flake followed with “One of Arizona’s finest. He leaves a great legacy.”