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Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, who in 1991 became Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress, left a legacy of public service to his home state when he died Tuesday night, including through his namesake Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at his alma mater, Arizona State University.
His family announced his death at age 75 in a statement by his daughter, Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor: "Congressman Pastor will be remembered for his commitment to his family and his legacy of service to the community that he loved."
ASU President Michael M. Crow said the nation, the state and the university had lost a remarkable individual.
"As the first Mexican-American to represent Arizona in Congress, Ed served as a living representation that through hard work, education and perseverance, anyone can rise from humble beginnings and achieve greatness," Crow said. "For ASU, this is a very personal loss, because Ed was a diehard Sun Devil and ASU advocate and remained highly involved with the university after retiring from Congress. Ed and his wife, Verma, played a major role in establishing and supporting scholarships and programs to help disadvantaged students achieve their educational dreams. Many of the recipients of these programs have gone on to become leaders in the Hispanic community."
The Pastor Center — housed in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions — equips students to engage politically and within the public arena. Created when he donated more than $1 million in unspent campaign funds after his retirement from Congress in 2015, the center reflects Pastor’s fierce commitment to public service, which he exhibited throughout his life.
“This is a devastating and tremendous loss to the community,” said Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell. “Congressman Pastor exemplified what public service is about: working together to solve problems and better our communities.
"He was not interested in grandiose speechmaking or incendiary partisanship because that never got things done. Students who want to make the world a better place are inspired by Ed Pastor to jump into the political fray and make it happen.”
Born in the tiny mining town of Claypool tucked in between the communities of Miami and Globe, Pastor was the first in his family to graduate from college.
He took tremendous pride in being a Sun Devil, having earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1966 and a law degree in 1974 from ASU. He taught high school math before becoming a community organizer in the town of Guadalupe. He went on to work for Arizona Gov. Raul Castro before being elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, where he served for 12 years.
Pastor was elected to Congress in 1991 and served until he declined to seek re-election and retired in 2015. He was key to securing funding for the Phoenix and Tucson light rail systems. Light rail was "was key to establishing ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus," Crow said.
In 2014, Pastor received the University Medal of Excellence, considered one of ASU’s most prestigious honors, at the fall undergraduate commencement. The medal was established in 2006 by Crow to honor innovative leaders who have worked to advance awareness and action on issues that affect the well-being and positive development of their communities, and whose leadership has helped ASU in its effort to define excellence and inclusion.
At the time of his retirement, Pastor was the most senior member of Arizona’s House delegation and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. It was after he left Congress that he made the gift that established the Pastor Center.
“I thought it would be a good idea to get involved because there's very few things that occur daily in our life that are not the result of political decisions,” Pastor said in 2015. “And so I just want to make sure that the students at ASU are well aware of that and engage in public service.”
Gretchen Buhlig, CEO of the ASU Foundation, said Pastor not only spent his career serving the people of Arizona, he also saw the need to equip the next generation of Arizonans to carry on that service.
“His vision aligned so well with that of ASU, to train students from all walks of life to be engaged and fearless in seeking positive change in their communities,” Buhlig said. “ASU’s Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service teaches real-world, hands-on participation in public processes that will equip our students to solve community challenges. ASU is honored to carry on his legacy.
Pastor’s history of generosity to ASU also includes support for the Indian Legal Program in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The program provides legal education and scholarships in Indian law and equips students to represent Native peoples.
He was also generous with his time and expertise, appearing at ASU to speak with scholarship recipients in the ASU Spirit of Service Scholars program about elections in Arizona, or participating in formal presentations at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the law school, where he earned his degrees.
He was a member of the CLAS Dean’s Council, alumni who work with the dean to advance the college through service and philanthropy.
“His leadership on our council made such a difference in the lives of our students, and he spoke many times to various classes as an ambassador of our college,” said Lisa Roubal-Brown, senior development officer in CLAS.
Despite the age difference, Pastor was a hit with students, said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center. The congressman was a frequent guest at many of the center’s events.
“His informal, genuine style captivated students and community members of all political persuasions,” Olivas said.
The Pastor Center gives students direct access to political leaders through seminars, forums and internships. One of the center’s signature programs is the Spirit of Service Scholars. Each year, about a dozen ASU students are selected to receive leadership training and learn from in-depth seminars on important public policy areas. Students are also paired with a mentor in the field they aspire to make a difference in.
Spirit of Service Scholar and Sandra Day O’Connor Law student Thomas Kim was mentored by former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch. He applauds the leadership and learning opportunities afforded by the program.
“We’re not just some students spending time in theory la-la land,” Kim said. “We’re actually coming up with an action plan. And with all the resources that this program provides, we’re going to make a dent.”
Olivas said Pastor’s legacy is much more than what he accomplished for Arizona as a public servant.
“Pastor was a role model for effective, inclusive and community-building leadership,” Olivas said. “Over the years, he inspired countless young people — particularly those from underrepresented communities — to become politically active and to consider careers in public service.”
Paul Atkinson and Melissa Bordow contributed to this article.
Top photo: Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor discusses how to get beyond the partisan gridlock in Washington, along with U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and moderator Grady Gammage Jr., at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy's State of Our State Conference in Phoenix on Nov. 16, 2016. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now