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Jack August, beloved chronicler of the Southwest, dies

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Dr. Jack August, historian and biographer of many prominent Arizonans, died Friday at age 63.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan, August’s boss in his current role as historian and head of institutional advancement at the Arizona Capitol Museum, said August fell ill and was hospitalized before his death.

August was well-known and respected around the country for his work on Western history and water politics. He wrote biographies of former Gov. Raul Castro and U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden, and he was working on a biography of former Gov. Fife Symington.

Dr. Jack August

Dr. Jack August

“Vision in the Desert: Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest,” his 1999 book on water politics and the former Arizona governor, earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in the history category.

August was working at the Capitol Museum and had plans to reinvigorate the museum and make it a destination. In May 2016, he told the Capitol Times he wanted to make more vibrant exhibits on topics like Arizona women, tribes, universities and agriculture.

August had tremendous passion for Arizona’s history and the state’s lore, always ready with a story about the state’s past, from the time Symington saved Bill Clinton from drowning to a tale of Hayden chasing down some train robbers.

“The American West has played an important, almost mythical role in our country, from Tombstone to Geronimo. … That kind of stuff that connects us to our national memory is important. Arizona still has this mythic quality to people throughout the country,” August said in May 2016.

August recently unearthed a trove of family and gubernatorial documents from Symington, who donated the items to the Capitol Museum, which August described as a “gold rush.”

Reagan said August was a “great addition” to the museum, and his passion for the job was clear in everything he did.

“The knowledge that was in that brain, the knowledge of what Arizona is and where it came from and where it’s going, it’s so incredible. If you talked to Jack for any length of time, it was contagious,” Reagan said.

And while August’s work to build up the Capitol Museum will continue, Reagan said there’s no way to replace him.

“This is a huge loss, not just for the Capitol community, but for the historian community,” she said.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a friend of August’s for 20 years, said in a statement that August’s work gave Arizonans a better understanding and appreciation for their history.

“His meticulous research and gift for story-telling brought our state’s history to life in ways that have helped us better prepare for our future. Jack is gone far too soon, but like any great historian, his gift to us will benefit many generations to come,” Stanton said.

Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that his prayers were with August and his family.
“His public service and love of Arizona will be remembered,” Ducey said.

One comment

  1. Thank you for this generous and accurate remembrance.
    My cousin leaves a long shadow and a heartbroken family.

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