Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Ex-Mayor Corbett epitomized feisty, colorful, blunt politician

James N. Corbett (shown in 1998), who was Tucson's mayor from 1967 through 1971, was the great-grandson of another Tucson mayor, J. Knox Corbett, mayor from 1914 to 1917.

James N. Corbett (shown in 1998), who was Tucson's mayor from 1967 through 1971, was the great-grandson of another Tucson mayor, J. Knox Corbett, mayor from 1914 to 1917.

In nearly 40 years of public service, he was never boring.

James N. Corbett Jr., a former Tucson mayor and descendant of a pioneer Tucson family, was buried Monday at Evergreen Mortuary & Cemetery at a private ceremony.

He died June 30 at 82 of heart-related problems

Mr. Corbett, a Democrat, served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 1956 to 1958 and on the City Council from 1963 to 1967.

He was elected mayor in 1967 and served the city through 1971.

In 1979, he was elected clerk of the Pima County Superior Court and served in that post for 20 years.

Mr. Corbett sometimes got his name in the news for reasons other than his public service.

In 1970, some council members wanted him to resign after he was accused of biting a woman on the leg during a League of Cities convention in Washington, D.C., which he denied.

That year he also got blamed for Life magazine calling Speedway Boulevard “America’s ugliest street.” He always denied he said it.

He was accused of threatening a Tucson legislator when he voted against upping the pay of court clerks.

He once said the state attorney general could “suck eggs” when the AG ruled that counties couldn’t earn interest on bail funds.

Mr. Corbett also had no love for reporters and often shared with them his acerbic wit. For years, when a reporter called him or approached him with a question, he would say something to the effect: “It is now 2:15 p.m. Never let it be said that Jim Corbett would not give the Tucson Citizen the time of day.”

In a budget dispute in 1985, Mr. Corbett sued the Pima County Board of Supervisors over its funding proposal for the Superior Court clerk’s office, which he said was about a half-million dollars short.

He won and the clerk and the board settled the dispute.

David Yetman, a member of the Board of Supervisors during the period, said Mr. Corbett claimed that he should decide how much money he needed to run his department, not the supervisors, who approve the county budget.

In an interview Tuesday, Yetman, now a research social scientist at the University of Arizona, recalled:

“We did not want to set a precedent of any department saying, ‘You give me what I need.’

Yetman, who was in his 30s then, said the supervisors told Mr. Corbett, “You’re going to have to get a court judgment. He said OK.

“When he made his case, I gave a line from Hamlet: ‘O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,’ ” Yetman said.

“He was a very cagey politician, very entertaining. I certainly did not share in some of the activities in which he found himself frequently immersed,” he said.

“He had style, he was smart and he certainly brought a great deal of color to local politics. Politics have become bland and it was anything but bland when Jim Corbett was mayor of the city of Tucson.”

Yetman said Mr. Corbett was a good Democrat who first won his Superior Court clerk post by “an extraordinarily close margin, by something like four votes, I think.

“He (Corbett) said those votes came from the reservation in Sells and he’d like to find them and treat them to dinner,” Yetman recalled.

Mr. Corbett’s successor as mayor, Lewis C. Murphy, made a point of choosing a less flashy Mercury Marquis over the copper-colored Lincoln Continental that was Mr. Corbett’s official city vehicle.

In a biography he prepared for the Citizen’s archives in 1958, Mr. Corbett said he was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 26, 1924, and lived in Tucson “all my life.”

He attended local public schools and studied for three years at the University of Arizona. In 1958, he was employed as a salesman for the Knox Corbett Lumber Co..

Mr. Corbett was the son of James N. Corbett, a lawyer, and Josephine Roberts Corbett.

His grandfather W.J. Corbett opened what the family said was the first hardware store in Arizona, in 1878 at Main Avenue and Congress Street.

J. Knox Corbett, his great-grandfather, was a lumber and hardware dealer and mayor of Tucson from 1914 to 1917.

Mr. Corbett was married on July 19, 1947, to Jeanne Anne McQuown, who survives him. The couple had four children: Nancye, Jamie, Paula and Willliam. They have six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

He is also survived by a brother, John Hiram Corbett, of El Paso, Texas.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service