The other day, quite by accident, I received a fascinating notice in the mail about Keith Turley.

It was an alumni bulletin from Arizona State University, and it reported that Turley, the retired head of Arizona Public Service Company, had been granted an honorary doctor's degree by the school.

Dr. Turley has been out of my mind in recent years. But he has hardly been out of sight. Dr. Turley can still be seen at every Phoenix Suns home game in his regular seat underneath the backboard closest to the team's bench at America West Arena. Not surprisingly, Dr. Turley is one of the team's significant investors.

I don't mean to be a scold. I found Dr. Turley's ascension to the pantheon of Arizona's greatest men highly instructive. It is also quite amusing, another momentous step forward for the cause of education in our grand state.

Why shouldn't Keith Turley be granted a doctorate by Arizona State? For years, the university regularly conferred passing grades on football players who could not read or write but were able to block and tackle with a high level of ferocity.

And reflect for a moment on what the University of Arizona in Tucson has done for the cause of higher education. Certainly, it has not been bashful about handing out honors of a questionable nature.

In recent years, the UofA has seen fit to honor Kemper Marley, the late, great bootlegger and race-wire operator. For Marley, who many still think was behind the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, the august fathers at the UofA named a building devoted to agricultural studies.

Marley's liquor business built up a fortune estimated at $400 million during his lifetime. When he died, a chorus at his funeral stood up and sang Marley's favorite song: "(I Did It) My Way." The funeral was attended by everyone who was anyone among the state's power brokers. Leading the pack was former senator Barry Goldwater.

The name of Karl Eller, the man who directed Circle K into bankruptcy, adorns the business school at the UofA.

The elevation of men like Marley and Eller to the pantheon should not surprise us. After all, those honors were accompanied by significant cash donations to the university coffers.

And there is something appropriate about having both Marley and Eller honored by the old school.

Eller was Marley's son's roommate at the UofA when the young men were students and football players at the school. That is how Eller and Marley first met. In later years, they became neighbors on Colter Street, not far from Biltmore Fashion Park.

For years, Eller has been closely connected to Dr. Turley. He served on Turley's board of directors at Arizona Public Service Company, a minimally taxing chore for which he was paid $100,000 per year.

When Turley expanded APS into the banking field by buying Merabank, Eller was also the recipient of an amazingly favorable interest rate of 6 percent for a $650,000 mortgage loan.

Turley graduated from ASU in 1948 and went into Arizona Public Service Company in the public relations department.

Always an affable sort, Turley became a director of the Sun Angel Foundation, which has given financial support to ASU's sports teams through the years.

During a stressful period when Charles Keating and Gary Driggs fell from grace, Dr. Turley was probably the biggest and most successful power broker of them all. And unlike Keating and Driggs, Dr. Turley walked away with his fortune intact.

It was Dr. Turley and Eller who supplied the push to bring Bill Bidwill's football Cardinals here from St. Louis.

They followed that up by leasing three corporate boxes at Sun Devil Stadium for ten years at a combined cost of $1.6 million. The cost, of course, was borne by their corporations.

At a time when the Reagan administration seemed to endorse corporate greed, Dr. Turley did exceedingly well for himself. In fact, he knew about corporate greed long before Reagan took office.

When Dr. Turley's company bought the land for the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in 1973, 75 percent of that land belonged to the family of Dr. Turley's brother-in-law. But this interesting and crucial fact never became public knowledge until the Republic finally reported it six years later--too late to stop the project.

Dr. Turley's lame alibi was that he stayed out of site selection for the huge plant because of a possible conflict of interest. But Turley, who was running APS at the time, most certainly had to know that his wife's brother was selling a huge chunk of the family land in Buckeye at a tremendous profit.

When he retired several years ago, Dr. Turley built a $2 million retirement home for himself overlooking the Paradise Valley golf course. It is 7,300 square feet and contains a billiard room, an art gallery and a library.

It is on the library wall, of course, that Dr. Turley has placed the framed copy of his doctor's degree from Arizona State.

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Tom Fitzpatrick