Arpaio

Joe Arpaio Describes Dedication of Wife Ava Arpaio, Who Died Saturday

Ava and Joe Arpaio in 2014.
Ava and Joe Arpaio in 2014. Gage Skidmore
Ava Arpaio, the wife of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, died Saturday at the age of 89 after a years-long fight with cancer.

"Not everybody loves me, but everybody loves my wife," Arpaio said at home on Monday, adding that services were still being planned.

"She was a great lady," he said, his voice trembling with emotion. "It's not easy after being married for 63 years to a beautiful wife."

Phoenix New Times was the first to report Ava Arpaio's illness back in January 2016. Her husband would go on that year to lose his first election as county sheriff since 1992. During those 24 years, Joe Arpaio became known for his tough-on-crime stance, which too-often manifested itself as apparent racism and institutional abuse. But whether he was investigating drug dealers in Turkey or being investigated for discriminatory policing, Ava Arpaio stood by her man.

She dedicated her life to making him, their two children, Sherry and Rocco, and their grandchildren happy, and "I'll never forget her for that," he said.

Arpaio met his wife in Washington D.C. in 1954, he said, not long after he started work there as a police officer. He lived in an apartment building where she also happened to live. His partner tried to date her but couldn't get her interest, he said, so Joe asked her out. His strategy, which would become the bane of his future political enemies, was to go "undercover" to investigate the dog barking in her apartment that she was not allowed to have. Somehow, she agreed to go out with him. They got married three years later in Chicago.

They moved around a lot after Joe Arpaio became a federal narcotics agent, living for a time in Turkey and Mexico, and Ava would come with him, he said.

"Putting up with me wasn't easy," said Arpaio, who's 88. He was gone for days at a time on assignments and sometimes engaged in "gun battles," a line he's frequently used about his Drug Enforcement Administration days. "She was concerned but never showed it."

Ava Arpaio started a travel agency called Starworld Travel after the couple moved to Arizona in 1978. For a time in the 1980s, her husband marketed $52,000 rocket flights into space through the firm, though it's unclear if he ever actually sold any. The trips by Society Expeditions never took place, but the firm has survived through the years and is now run by the Arpaios' son.

Ava Arpaio wasn't outspoken in her political views but always seemed to support her husband. Joe Arpaio said they never had "personal problems" in their 63 years of marriage, and had similar opinions in politics and government policy.

"She was for Trump from day one," Arpaio said. Trump would later infamously pardon the former sheriff following his misdemeanor conviction for contempt of court in a federal discriminatory policing case. But, Arpaio said, she didn't like Trump "just because of me."

The ex-president called the ex-sheriff on Sunday to offer his condolences, Arpaio said.

Doctors told the couple in 2018 that Ava's cancer was in "complete remission." That gave her some more time with her family, but Ava's health took a severe turn about a month ago.

She held on long enough at the end so that a priest could give a second last-rites blessing to her before she died on Saturday at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center. "She's in heaven," Arpaio said.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern