Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, who championed liberal causes as Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress but was known for his bipartisanship, died after suffering a heart attack, his family said Nov. 28. He was 75.
Pastor, a Democrat, served 23 years in Congress until deciding in 2014 against running for re-election.
Pastor won a 1991 special election for the House seat vacated by fellow Democrat Morris K. Udall and was re-elected 11 times. He had previously been a Maricopa County supervisor, aide to Arizona Gov. Raul Castrol in the 1970s and a high school teacher.
Ronnie Lopez, a lifelong friend and finance chairman of all of Pastor’s congressional campaigns, said he suffered a heart attack Nov. 27 while dining at a Phoenix restaurant with his wife, Verma. He died at a local hospital.
Laura Pastor, a Phoenix City Council member and one of the former congressman’s two daughters, said he “will be remembered for his commitment to his family, and his legacy of service to the community that he loved, the state of Arizona and the nation.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, called Pastor “an Arizona trailblazer and true public servant” and ordered that flags lowered statewide to half-staff.
Lopez grew up with Pastor and said “he personified the best of what a statesman is.”
“He didn’t care if you were a Democrat or independent, Republican, rich or poor. If he could help you he would,” Lopez said. “You can see his footprint throughout this state and this community.”
Pastor was born in Claypool, Arizona, a small mining town about 100 miles east of Phoenix, where his father worked in the copper mines. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Arizona State University.
He taught chemistry at North High School in Phoenix, according to a biography by the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at ASU. He later served as deputy director of a community nonprofit, the Guadalupe Organization, then earned a law degree at ASU.
He joined Castro’s staff after law school and focused on enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then successfully ran for county supervisor in 1976. After his election to Congress in 1991, he eventually rose to leadership posts, becoming chief deputy whip and serving on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
“There was no one more capable, hardworking and kind,” Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said in a Tweet. “Arizona is a far better place because of Ed Pastor.”
Longtime Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin said people from both parties knew to go to Pastor.
“Ed was the guy whether you were a Democrat or a Republican in Arizona you could go to and ask him to help you,” Coughlin said. “He would always try and help people regardless of your political affiliation. That’s why I loved him — you’d call and he would always say ‘what can I do for you.'”
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who represents Pastor’s old congressional district, said Pastor “dedicated his career to protecting the civil rights of every American and making the American Dream accessible to everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society.”
Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams and former Mayor Greg Stanton said Pastor, who served on the House Appropriations Committee, championed transportation projects such as funding for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport improvements and construction of the metro area’s light rail system.
“I adored Ed Pastor, and Phoenix is a better city because of him,” Williams said.
“He wasn’t a show horse, he didn’t demand the limelight, he was just a workhorse and he got things done for folks,” Lopez said. “He was loved. Schools, courthouses, bridges and parks are named after him.”
Besides his wife and daughter, other survivors include a second daughter, Yvonne, and a sister, Eleanor. Laura Pastor said arrangements are pending.