Death lurks all around us. It's part of life.
So much so that we've allowed ourselves to become numb, maybe even uncaring. Every day we confront the incomprehensible, as the numbers to die in this pandemic tick, tick, tick, always upward.
The COVID-19 virus claimed its fair share in 2021, but so did gun violence, car crashes, cancer, and other long-term illnesses. The year took friends and sources. The famous and the ordinary. Inspirations and scoundrels, and a lot of people who were a bit of both.
But death's finality can also be a beginning. In the blockbuster film Gladiator, the protagonist Maximus says it best: "What we do in life echoes in eternity."
This is the story of some of those earliest echoes from the ones who departed the Phoenix stage in the last 12 months. Gone, but by no means, forgotten. Never that.
September 6, 1931-January 2, 2021
Dr. Santos Vega, professor emeritus at Arizona State University, novelist and historian, died at 89 in January, just two days into the new year. Born and raised in Arizona, Vega was a dedicated public servant in almost any way you can be: He was a firefighter, an airman, an instructor in state prisons, and a longtime member of the civil rights organization League of United Latin American Citizens. He worked as a grade-school teacher and a minister. After receiving his doctorate at ASU, he eventually joined the school as faculty, leading its Community Documentation Program in the Hispanic Research Center.
Of all this, Vega's most enduring legacy may be his archival research — his commitment to preserving and capturing the history of Latino communities in Arizona. He wrote several volumes of Mexican-American history, carried out historical surveys, and served on preservation boards. His work carries the understanding that the preservation of history is deeply important for communities of the present.
Vega wrote of these interlocking goals in a volume documenting the history of Mexicans in Tempe through decades of photographs: "They reached for the past to tie the present and future together," he wrote of his community, "in a life in daily transformation."
Last fall, the city held its annual Hispanic heritage festival in Vega's honor. He leaves behind nine children, 23 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren.
- KATYA SCHWENK
November 30, 1950-January 2, 2021
Paul Westphal took the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals twice — as both a player and a coach. On January 2, 2021, he died in Scottsdale of a brain tumor at age 70 — just five months short of seeing the team he loved so dearly accomplish this feat a third time. He was diagnosed in August 2020.
For the Suns, Westphal was a good luck charm. In 1976, his first year on the team, he took the franchise to its first-ever Finals appearance. Westphal was critical in Game 5 of that series against the Boston Celtics, which is often called "the greatest game ever played." But don't call it beginner's luck. In 1993, his first year as head coach, he propelled the Suns to their second contention for reign at the sport's highest level.
At the conclusion of his playing career, Westphal continued to make an impact on the Valley when he coached at Arizona Christian University in Glendale and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, leading the Antelopes to an NAIA national title in just his second year.
A favorite of the decorated player and coach, radio personality Rush Limbaugh died just days after Westphal did.
Limbaugh once said, "I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to make such good friends as Paul Westphal."
- ELIAS WEISS
November 14, 1946-January 20, 2021
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and longtime newsroom leader, Pam Johnson died at 74 after battling dementia.
Johnson shared the 1982 Pulitzer during her tenure at The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times for news stories about the Hyatt Hotel skywalks collapse, which killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds.
She was a co-founder of Journalism and Women's Symposium, otherwise known as JAWS, as an organization to support women in the news industry.
"It was hard for a woman to be heard (in the newsroom)," Johnson said during an oral history in 2013 by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism. Johnson was a senior editor at the Phoenix Gazette and later The Arizona Republic's executive editor. She was the first executive director of the University of Missouri's institute in 2004. She described journalism as more than a career.
"When it gets in your blood, journalism is what you live," she said.
Johnson hails from Carthage, Missouri, and after college, her first job in journalism was for the Joplin Missouri Globe newspaper. She later worked for the Binghamton Evening Press in New York, then on the copy desk of the Kansas City Times and then Kansas City Star.
- KRISTEN MOSBRUCKER
March 8, 1943-January 24, 2021
Frank Shankwitz was born in Chicago, where he lived until his mother, enraptured by the West, stole him away to northern Arizona. In the custody battle that followed, Shankwitz would be jerked around the country. But, he would later recall, he never lost the sense that he was a cowboy. In all the years that followed, as he became an Arizona highway cop and then the "wish man," Shankwitz seemed never to take off his cowboy hat.
Shankwitz, a co-founder of the "Make-A-Wish-Foundation" and its longtime ambassador, died at the end of January of esophageal cancer. He was at his home in Prescott. Shankwitz had a difficult upbringing.
"As a young boy, my greatest wish was survival," he wrote in his memoir.
He would eventually climb out of poverty, enlisting with the Air Force and, after some years, moving to Phoenix and joining the Arizona Department of Public Safety as a highway patrol officer.
It was on the force that he met a 7-year-old boy, dying of leukemia, who wanted to be a motorcycle officer. Shankwitz and fellow patrol officers gave the boy a badge and a uniform just days before he passed away. Shankwitz was torn up by the boy's death. It inspired him to co-found Make-A-Wish, which expanded rapidly.
Even as Make-A-Wish went global, Shankwitz remained in Arizona, never leaving law enforcement. Eventually, he became a cold case investigator in Prescott.
When filmmakers began working on the 2019 blockbuster about his life, Wish Man, they planned to film it out-of-state, wherever they could snag the best tax credits. But Shankwitz pushed back: If they were to make a movie about his life, it had to be done in Arizona. "I lobbied very hard," he said. In the end, Shankwitz got his wish. They filmed in Prescott.
- KATYA SCHWENK
August 25, 1957-January 27, 2021
If you ever walked into The Chuckbox, the longtime burger joint on University Drive in Tempe, you were probably greeted with the boisterous, high-pitched laugh and smiling face of Antonio "Tony" Carrasco.
Carrasco, who lived in Laveen but commuted to The Chuckbox daily, was a fixture at the restaurant for more than 30 years, starting work there in 1988.
Carrasco was one of nine children who grew up in Durango, Mexico. He made his way to Arizona during his teen years as an undocumented immigrant and later received his green card. He met his beloved wife, Mary Perez, on a Phoenix dancefloor. The couple had four children and eight grandchildren.
His co-workers at The Chuckbox were his extended family. At the burger stand, Carrasco was a jack of all trades, flipping burgers and prepping fries, usually while whistling.
After years of feeding hungry ASU students, it was revealed Carrasco had a small tumor and stage two colon cancer in 2019. He died on January 27 from complications with COVID.
Friends, coworkers, and Chuckbox patrons flooded the page with positive vibes for Carrasco. "This is sad," posted Brandon Walls. "Remember him all through my degree, always made the place feel like a home-cooked meal."
Another Chuckbox customer provided some levity. "This dude fed us all," said Joseph Kimball. "God needed a good burger." - KEVIN BURTON
August 18, 1947-January 2021
Tomaso was born and raised in Sicily, the southern region of Italy, and is a true example of the American dream with the culinary empire he created in the Valley and beyond.
He first opened the award-winning Tomaso's Italian Restaurant in the Camelback Corridor in 1977. He later founded The Maggiore Group, a restaurant group that operates local eateries like The Sicilian Butcher, The Sicilian Baker, and Hash Kitchen. In total, Maggiore launched more than 50 restaurants in Arizona and California. He even created his own Sicilian-sourced wine.
Maggiore died in January at age 73 from lung cancer.
A true titan, Maggiore made a positive impact on the Arizona food scene. His restaurants created more than 27,000 jobs. His devotion to his restaurants and his trade was unmatched. He often visited vegetable farms locally, across the country, and in Europe to source fresh ingredients for his entrees while also adopting the latest cooking techniques to incorporate the true essence of Italy in every bite, making sure his guests enjoyed only the finest meals.
Maggiore received countless awards over the years including Best Italian Restaurant in the Valley for several decades, Arizona Restaurant Association's Food Pioneer Award, and dozens of top chef awards.
The Maggiore family, spearheaded by his children Joey and Melissa, continues to operate Tomaso's iconic Italian institution and honor his legacy.
"It is my goal to honor his legacy and make him proud with amazing restaurants and delectable food. He is the greatest father, chef, and friend that I have ever known, and I will love and miss him dearly, forever," said Joey Maggiore, executive chef of The Maggiore Group.
- KEVIN BURTON
December 21, 1978-February 1, 2021
Monique Sanderson-Mata loved creating a sense of unity in Phoenix's arts and cultural scene. When friends speak of the artist, teacher, and community organizer, who died last February from liver failure, it's mentioned as one of her defining characteristics, along with her rambunctious laugh, enormous smile, and boundless spirit.
Her friend and fellow artist Kathy Cano-Murillo says Sanderson-Mata acted as connective tissue and booster for Phoenix's cultural landscape.
"Monique loved bringing people together and helping them shine," Cano-Murillo says. "She was always ready to jump in, help out, to take action, and she always made a point to be there when you needed her."
Besides conducting workshops as a member of the Phoenix Fridas, a Latina-oriented artist group, Sanderson-Mata organized art shows at local galleries and nightspots, ran crafting and make-and-take events at Grand Avenue's La Melgosa building, and hosted a radio show on local community radio station KDIF 102.9. She was also a constant presence at downtown Phoenix's First and Third Friday art walks.
A native of Tucumcari, New Mexico, who moved with her family to Arizona in the '90s, she brought together creatives from both states during her annual "AZ/NM Connection" events. Cano-Murrilo says Sanderson-Mata continued to connect with people during the final weeks and months of her life.
"When she knew what was coming, she went out of her way to reach out to everyone, find out what they were doing, and let people know how much she loved and supported them," Cano-Murillo says. "We're all grateful for the help she offered and the passion she put into everything."
- BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
October 24, 1956-February 7, 2021
Born in the province of Potenza, Italy, Mario Caputo came to Connecticut at age 11 with his parents and 11 siblings. At 13, he was forced to become a man when his father passed away.
A true entrepreneur, he opened his first restaurant in his 20s, while continuing various other side hustles like construction, tiling, and even house cleaning.
But it was in Arizona where he made his mark with Bell' Italia Pizzeria in Ahwatukee. At Bell' Italia, he was known to always give a slice of pizza to a hungry patron or enjoy a shot of his homemade limoncello with friends or patrons. Mario's passion for food and family was well known: He treated his guests like family, always with a cheering smile and good humor.
Mario always wanted to be a husband and father. The love of his life, Paola, was from the same region of Italy, and always at his side. He taught his sons all he knew and will be remembered for many things: his selflessness, his humor, his energy to light up a room, and, of course, a perfectly tossed and topped pie.
- KEVIN BURTON
December 10, 1979-February 10, 2021
Bobby Kramer's infectious smile was a warm welcome when you walked up to the bar. His personality and killer drinks kept you there. And, while his passing was tragic, his memory and legacy will not soon be forgotten.
Kramer was the food and beverage director and part of the founding group at The Hidden House and The Brickyard Downtown in Chandler. His death from a wrong-way crash on February 10 was a shock to the close-knit community, which includes former co-workers, patrons, and his industry peers.
"Whether you were a friend, colleague, patron or stranger, if you interacted with Bobby, you always felt one thing: A palpable sense of welcoming," says an Instagram post from The Brickyards Downtown on December 4. "He'd have this consistent ability to make you feel seen, heard, known, and loved. He'd welcome you like family, and connect with you in an authentic, caring way."
Kramer was a former U.S. Navy Corpsman and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran. He served in the Navy for eight years. After working in the medical field, he got involved with the United States Bartender's Guild, attending seminars and competitions and eventually becoming a two-time regional contender in the Diageo World Class Competition in 2015 and 2016.
Kramer helped build both The Hidden House and The Brickyard Downtown into the cocktail destinations they are today. He also worked at Scottsdale's Virtú Honest Craft and downtown Phoenix's Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails.
He is survived by his wife, Lindsey, and his son, Arthur, as well as his parents and siblings.
- KEVIN BURTON
August 24, 1946-March 1, 2021
As a self-described "serial entrepreneur," Rich Hazelwood took a lot of chances based on his business acumen and gut instincts. Most of his gambles paid off.
In the '70s, Hazelwood parlayed a modest family inheritance into a series of hotel vending machines, which later became a nationwide chain of hotel gift shops. During the '80s and '90s, his namesake screen-printing company capitalized on historic local events by producing commemorative T-shirts, sometimes within hours. When Phoenix hit a record-high 122 degrees in June 1990, he had souvenir shirts out that afternoon.
After selling his retail chain for $19 million in 2000, Hazelwood used a portion to fulfill a lifelong dream two years later and purchased the historic Celebrity Theatre. Growing up in the same east Phoenix neighborhood as the famed in-the-round venue, which opened in 1964 as the Star Theatre, Hazelwood rode past while it was under construction. "I watched it being built on my paper route and thought, 'One day I'm going to own that,'" he told the Arizona Republic in 2020.
Celebrity Theatre became Hazelwood's pride and joy. He spent more than $1 million on its renovation, and became a regular, appearing on its stage with his pet dogs to introduce shows.
In 2019, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Hazelwood continued to oversee the venue along with his daughter, Heidi, up until his death in March 2020 from leukemia at age 74.
Local concert promoter Danny Zelisko says Hazelwood's ownership helped preserve the venue and its legacy for generations to come. "I have no doubt he kept the Celebrity Theatre alive when it otherwise might have vanished," Zelisko said.
- BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Lt. Col. Robert Ashby
July 17, 1926-March 5, 2021
Lt. Col. Robert Ashby was one of the last three surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen in Arizona until his death at 95.
Ashby was part of the Archer-Ragsdale Chapter of the famous Black airmen group. Ashby was born in Yemassee, South Carolina, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps — later known as the U.S. Air Force — at 17 years old.
After high school, he was sent to Japan and rejected by all-white units due to segregation in the ranks. He served until the mid-1960s and flew aircraft in Korea and across Europe. Ashby later worked as a commercial pilot for Frontier Airlines until the 1980s.
"You have to believe in yourself," Ashby once said in an interview. "You can do anything you want to do as long as you put in the effort."
- KRISTEN MOSBRUCKER
October 21, 1988-May 30, 2021
It's a cliche to say that someone is one of a kind. But in the case of Andy Warpigs, who died last spring at the age of 32, there's no better descriptor.
The folk-punk artist made an indelible impression on the Phoenix DIY music scene not just for his talent, but his kindness and generosity toward virtually everyone who encountered them. Born Michael Johnson, they adopted the Warpigs moniker in 2013, a year before they released their debut album, Folk-Punk Yourself.
Over the subsequent years, they played with a number of local acts (including their self-titled band and Militia Joan Hart), released a second album (Counter Culture-shock!, in 2020), and led the local music scene by example, blending honesty and vulnerability with unrestrained creativity.
"Andy Warpigs, as they were known to us, was one of the most caring, earnest, and supportive musicians we've ever known," said YabYum Music + Arts senior editors Carly Schorman and Mark Anderson at the time of Warpigs' death. "Andy was a defining force in the local music scene and they played a shaping role in the community. Andy's talent and charisma stood out on and off the stage, perhaps, overshadowed only by [their] kindness."
It's fitting that Warpigs' last contribution to the local music scene was a page in the Going Local calendar whose proceeds benefitted concert venues around town. They posed just weeks before their death with their longtime friend and collaborator, Bryan "Dadadoh" Preston, in front of Rips Ales & Cocktails, an establishment that was close to Warpigs' heart. To the end, Warpigs supported the musical community that nurtured them and gave far more than they took.
- JENNIFER GOLDBERG
1943-August 8, 2021
Child singing star and Phoenix native Maxine Johnson was discovered as a jazz sensation in her youth.
Johnson was a jazz singer who rubbed elbows with Diana Ross, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald before she was a teenager. Johnson died at 78 from complications of a stroke.
When she was 5 years old, she was already singing solo at her church and frequently won local singing contests in the Valley. A talent scout scooped her up for a children's television show in 1948 known as Lew King Rangers.
For years, Johnson was out of the limelight as she raised her family of nine children. After her children had grown up she returned to show business and began singing in jazz clubs alongside her daughter Laydee Jai as a duo. The mother-daughter pair performed together for more than a decade after going solo again in 2006.
Several years later, Johnson suffered a stroke that affected her mobility, so she had to retire from singing in 2011.
Local music aficionado John Dixon recalled her memorable voice, even when she sang cover songs. "She would cover songs that other people made famous but she had this very distinct sound. She made those songs her own," Dixon told New Times.
- KRISTEN MOSBRUCKER
February 22, 1978-September 21, 2021
Hans Hughes died doing what he loved — cycling through the streets of Downtown Phoenix.
But if there's one thing he loved more than that trusty bike, his primary mode of transportation, it was helping people. Thousands of people.
Hughes was tragically struck by a drunken driver near First and Fillmore streets in late August. He succumbed to his injuries in September. A 12-year veteran Downtown Phoenix Ambassador, he was almost always clad in his signature orange polo shirt, much the same color as his distinctive beard and mustache. He settled on Roosevelt Street after moving to the Valley from his native Michigan.
Hughes died too early at age 43. Even after death, Hughes' spirit continues the work he accomplished in life — helping people. His untimely death sparked a wave of pedestrian safety efforts in Downtown Phoenix.
Colleagues told New Times that Hughes was "a beloved member of the Downtown Phoenix community who made an indelible impression on tens of thousands of residents, employees, students, and visitors."
- ELIAS WEISS
September 14, 1964-September 27, 2021
"Be like a child" is the advice that the photojournalist Nick Oza once gave for street photography, "and understand your subject."
It was this discerning curiosity that would draw the longtime Arizona Republic staff photographer to makeshift migrant camps in Tijuana, to flooded nursing homes in Texas, to grieving families in Guatemala. On assignments, Oza would embed with his subjects, capturing intimate, human moments, always looking for a deeper understanding.
He was a joy for reporters to work with. He would often ask questions that led to better stories. People wanted to talk to him. On assignment in south Tucson, a man who had just buried two young children, shot by their mother, opened up to Oza and told him where to find the gravestones. It led to an iconic image for a series about child abuse, making the issue real to readers.
In September, Oza was seriously injured in a single-vehicle crash in Phoenix; it eventually took his life. He was 57, and left behind a wife and daughter. His death reverberated among friends, colleagues, and those who knew his work: Tributes came in a flood, telling of his patience, his luminous presence, and the impact of his work.
Oza was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to the United States when he was in his early 20s, where he continued his studies of photography.
His own experience as an immigrant, he would later say, influenced his work on immigration in the Southwest. This was the subject to which Oza would become deeply dedicated, gaining renown for his stark portraits of migrants and, often, the inhumanity of our immigration system. Projects he worked on twice won Pulitzer prizes.
He collected dozens of awards. The work, though, was challenging: "Sometimes," he told an interviewer last summer, "I feel that I soak in a lot of their pain." Still, he did not look away — instead, choosing to bear witness.
- KATYA SCHWENK
December 11, 1947-October 9, 2021
Valley restauranteur Paul Keeler was a familiar face in the Cave Creek, Carefree, and Scottsdale communities as the founder of two Liberty Station American Tavern and Smokehouse restaurants in Scottsdale and Keeler's Neighborhood Steakhouse in Carefree.
Keeler passed away on October 9 from complications related to COVID-19, but he'll be best remembered for his unmatched passion for hospitality.
"His smile was contagious, and he could work a dining room better than most seasoned restaurant industry veterans," said his obituary.
Early in his career, Keeler co-owned restaurants in Boston and upstate New York. He was later recruited as vice president of food and beverage by Beacon Hotel Company. He spent 20 years with Hilton Hotels before founding Keeler Hospitality Group in Scottsdale in 2008.
Keeler was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1947 and studied business at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California. In 1975, he married Judy Maeder. The couple has three children, Matt, Ryan, and Jessica.
- KEVIN BURTON
May 19, 1954-October 23, 2021
When they name a courtroom after you, you've left your mark.
But even though he was a two-term state attorney general from 1991 to 1999, and a lawyer by trade, Grant Woods will be remembered, a little wistfully, for his role in politics. He was a rare set of things in modern politics: a moderate, a bipartisan, and a statesman.
Woods was born in Elk City, Oklahoma. After high school, he graduated from Occidental College before getting a law degree from Arizona State University in 1979. He was later named alumnus of the year at the Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law, where a mock courtroom is named for him.
He was best known for his bonds with former U.S. Senator John McCain, whom he eulogized at his funeral. Woods served as McCain's chief of staff before stepping into the political fray himself.
As Arizona's attorney general and in the years after, Woods was always available and amenable to the press. He gave interviews and seemed to enjoy the exchanges. He was generous with his time.
Sometimes to a fault. He had an image, like many leading Arizona politicians of his era, of being a moth to the media. One time, New Times set up a photoshoot with a hot-dog vendor, who happened to be an escaped convict. Not knowing, Woods joked the paper was going to name him Best Hot Dog that year, but the paper had another jibe in mind. The headline ran: "Grant Woods: There is no such thing as a bad photo opportunity." Woods and his flak went ballistic, threatening to sue, calling the stunt below the belt, and lambasting the editors for making the man look like "the jackass of Arizona."
His relations with the press could get testy in other ways. The Arizona Press Club bestowed the Brick Wall Award on him because, under his watch, the attorney general's office had been particularly awful about thwarting public records requests.
As attorney general, he advocated for establishing a state holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr., and was a driving force behind a historically large settlement with the tobacco industry.
But it was his stature in later years, after leaving office, that defined his legacy. A Republican throughout his political career, Woods had no place for the toxic, vile brand of politics that consumed his party. He registered as a Democrat and endorsed Joe Biden for president in 2020. He made no bones about his distaste for the man he wanted Biden to replace.
When Colin Powell died and was lionized in the media, Donald Trump issued a statement dripping with sarcasm on October 19. Trump blasted the former general and diplomat as a RINO who made "big mistakes."
Woods took aim.
"This is repulsive. Vote out anyone who supports this person. Every single one. It is disqualifying," Woods tweeted.
Grant Woods died of a heart attack, age 67, four days later.
"My love, best friend and partner Grant Woods unexpectedly passed away," his wife, Marlene Galan, wrote on Twitter. "Words fail me at this time. I loved him without measure."
- SEAN HOLSTEGE
July 13, 1942-October 27, 2021
It's difficult to imagine what Phoenix arts and culture would be without the Herberger family. The legacy of patronage began with Katherine and Bob, who moved to Phoenix in the 1940s and began shaping the cultural life of the city, including founding Herberger Theater Center and contributing to the creation of Phoenix Art Museum.
That love of the arts and dedication to philanthropy was passed down to their children, including their son Judd. A homebuilder and real estate developer by trade, Herberger's passion was furthering the cause of arts and culture in Arizona. He and his wife, Billie Jo, supported a number of metro Phoenix arts organizations, including ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona Opera, Ballet Arizona, Kids in Focus, Phoenix Theatre, Release the Fear, Scottsdale Philharmonic, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Valley Youth Theater, and more.
Herberger gave back to the community he lived in most of his life right up until the very end: Just 10 days before his death, he and his wife hosted the American Heart Association's Phoenix Heart Ball at their home. He leaves Phoenix, his home for more than 80 years, far, far better than he found it.
- JENNIFER GOLDBERG
April 27, 1933-November 12, 2021
Phoenix has always been a car town. So it's perhaps not surprising that racing champion Bob Bondurant ended up in the Valley of the Sun. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he started out racing motorcycles in his teens before heading west to California, where he switched to cars and began to make a name for himself.
He raced Corvettes in the early 1960s before becoming a part of Carroll Shelby's Ford Cobra team, and drove Ferraris and McLarens before a devastating crash ended his racing career in 1967. The incident spurred him to open the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Irvine, California, in 1968, where he offered instruction in racecar driving, motorcycling, and drag racing. The school moved around California as it grew before landing in Phoenix in 1989.
If you like movies about cars, you've got Bob Bondurant to thank for some of the genre's best offerings: He trained Paul Newman for 1969's Winning, along with Tom Cruise for Days of Thunder (1990) and well into his 80s, coached Christian Bale for Ford v. Ferrari in 2019.
Though the school filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and was purchased and renamed the next year, Bondurant's legacy as a racer, teacher, and advocate for safe driving is indelible.
"I love teaching and I love driving," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1988. "I hope I never grow up. It would be a disaster."
- JENNIFER GOLDBERG
Sheena the Elephant
1971-November 22, 2021
Sheena was no ordinary elephant. She had a gentle demeanor but a commanding presence. In her 21 years in Phoenix, she taught those around her what it meant to be brave, to be compassionate, and to love life.
She passed away November 22 of natural causes. She died as she lived — peacefully.
Sheena was born wild in 1971. And although domestic life in America was her norm since 1972, she maintained a bit of a wild side. She "wasn't overly rambunctious," caretakers said, but she would get rowdy in her barn alone — until someone walked in and she would freeze. It was an endearing sight.
She arrived at the Phoenix Zoo in 2000 from the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation. Asian elephants like Sheena are endangered due to poaching, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflict. But the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, which operates the Phoenix Zoo, gave Sheena a second chance at life — and she embraced it to the fullest extent.
Sheena, who was 50 when she died, lived years beyond the average lifespan for an Asian elephant, something her caretakers attribute to her resolute sense of self and overall love of life.
Corey Barr, the senior elephant keeper, said, "I just don't know what words could ever actually describe what a special being Sheena was." - ELIAS WEISS