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Dave Sitton: Always with a smile, ‘The Mayor’ was Tucson

Dave Sitton

Dave Sitton

Longtime broadcaster for University of Arizona athletics. Rugby coach. Philanthropist. Baseball nut. Emmy winner.

Cancer survivor. Singer.

Member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. Political candidate. Radio talk show host. Assistant UA athletic director.

Vice president with Clear Channel Outdoor. Member of the Tucson Conquistadores. Chairman of the Tucson Pops Orchestra. Board member of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority. Community leader.

The list goes on and on and blessedly on, and that’s merely a partial accounting of all the varied and wonderful things that Dave Sitton, Tucson’s unofficial Master of Ceremonies, packed into his life. He has died at the age of 58 of an apparent heart attack, the University of Arizona announced Monday, leaving behind a personal box score filled with several lifetimes of good work.

“There are very few people who make up Tucson,” said former Arizona basketball player Corey Williams, who was one of Sitton’s broadcast partners. “He is one of them.”

Sitton might have been best known for his time behind the mike, but he was the ultimate man about town, the popular choice to emcee any event and get involved in charitable pursuits. He recently scratched his political itch, but lost in the 2012 Republican primary race to fill the seat of U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords.

“He was so well-rounded,” said Dave Silver, a Tucson sportscaster for 28 years before joining the University of Arizona Foundation in January 2012. “He could talk sports, politics, religion, music. He was just so involved in everything and into giving back to Tucson. He touched so many people because of that.

“For years, he helped organize the U of A baseball Alumni Game, and he would bring in these big guests. Pete Rose, Tommy Lasorda, Harmon Killebrew, Bobby Thompson, who hit one of the most famous home runs of all-time. I still have an autographed baseball from Pete Rose from that game in the mid-1980s.

“It was incredible because Dave had all these contacts.”

That’s the thing about Sitton. He knew everybody. Was a friend to everybody. If you knew him, chances are he called you “Doctor” at some point.

Sitton, a Southern California kid who arrived in Tucson in the summer of 1973 as a catcher with a bad shoulder, was nudged into broadcasting by baseball coach Jerry Kindall. He started doing radio broadcasts for UA baseball in 1981, moving into a more prominent role with Wildcats football and basketball, on television, from 1990 to 2012.

At the end of his basketball run on Fox Sports Arizona, he was paired with Williams, who had replaced analyst Bob Elliott, a star Wildcat hoopster from the 1970s who became friends with Sitton in the freshman dorms on campus.

“I was replacing Bob Elliott, and Dave could have turned his back on me, but he was so helpful and supportive,” Williams said.

“There were days when I questioned my ability to work in TV, and he was always there for me, always Mr. Positive all the time. I really thank him for that. I don’t remember Dave being in a room without a smile. He had a positive word for everybody.

“He was just a great friend. There are thousands of people in Tucson who are saying the very same thing.”

Sitton battled Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma in 2005 and did it his way — publicly.

“I don’t want to be a cancer survivor, I want to be a cancer killer,” Sitton told the Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin in 2005. “It’s unbelievable to me that there are still people who feel they have to whisper that they have cancer. It’s a battle, it’s a red badge of courage. It’s time to fight, and people shouldn’t feel like they have to hide it.”

He beat the cancer cells and then vowed to beat many, many more, becoming the marketing director for the UA Cancer Center.

What didn’t he do? How did he find the time? Sitton coached the UA rugby club team for 35 years and was a constant champion of the sport, including doing play-by-play work for rugby matches on ESPN and NBC. His players always called him “Pops.” The national rugby community was mourning his passing, too, Monday.

Mostly, though, Sitton was Tucson.

“It is with tremendous sorrow that we acknowledge the passing of Dave Sitton, and express our condolences to his family and friends,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement.

“Few people have touched so many in our community like Dave. His contributions to Arizona athletics, the University of Arizona, and the Tucson community are immeasurable. He impacted so many lives through his tireless work with various organizations and was a positive influence for anyone who had the opportunity to spend time with him.

“His passion, personality and presence will be sorely missed but never forgotten.”

Sitton was the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year in 2005. He could have been that in any year. The award should be named after him.

Elliott nicknamed Sitton “The Mayor” of Tucson. He probably shook more hands than the actual mayor.

Sitton was everyman, everywhere, completely unforgettable and, now, forever missed.


Kindall, Tomey, Olson: Former Arizona coaches remember Dave Sitton

From TucsonCitizen.com blogger Andy Morales: Longtime friend Dave Sitton passes away

From 2005 Tucson Citizen profile: Big Shot calls the shots

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