By Gabrielle Fimbres –
When his three girls were little, Pat Lopez made sure he carved out one-on-one time with each – as their soccer coach, in game debriefings on the car ride home and later on travels around the globe.
The girls are all grown up, but Lopez stays close, serving as adviser, mentor and dad. He spent a recent morning talking about overcoming adversity to students at San Miguel High School, where his daughter, Melissa Gruenhagen, is dean of academics.
For his commitment to fatherhood and the community, Lopez, a founding partner in the Tucson law firm Rusing Lopez & Lizardi, is a 2015 Father’s Day Council Tucson Father of the Year.
“Blessed is what we are,” Gruenhagen said.
Lopez and his wife of 35 years, Marilou, are also parents to therapist Katie Marwitz, who lives in Phoenix with her husband, and Elise Lopez, who works in commercial property management in Tucson.
The Lopez family legacy started simply enough – at a junior high school track meet that Marilou doesn’t exactly remember.
Lopez, whose family dates back in Tucson to the early to mid-1800s, first laid eyes on Marilou at a track meet. He was from St. Joseph Catholic School, she was from St. Cyril of Alexandria School.
“She doesn’t remember,” Lopez said with a grin.
They started dating as students at Salpointe Catholic High School in 1973, and both attended the University of Arizona.
It wasn’t easy, as Lopez put himself through school.
“My worst semester I had 19 units and three jobs, working 35 to 40 hours a week. I sold ads for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, I sold silkscreened T-shirts and at night I was a waiter at a restaurant.”
He played rugby in his spare time.
“Every time pot pies went on sale for five for a dollar I would fill up my freezer,” Lopez said of those lean years. “Sometimes at the end of the month I ate pot pies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will never eat another pot pie.”
He persevered and achieved his dream of attending Stanford Law School. “Since I was in grade school I wanted to go to law school. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I understood I had to have good grades to get in.”
In his second year, the couple married. They moved to Phoenix after graduation, where Lopez worked as a lawyer. They started their family in Phoenix.
In 1988, they returned to Tucson and Lopez taught at what is now the James E. Rogers College of Law. In 1992, when Lopez decided to go back into private practice, Tucson attorney and Stanford Law classmate Mick Rusing was the first person he called.
Lopez had a broad business transaction background and Rusing had a broad litigation background. They made a good match.
They started downtown, just the two attorneys, a secretary and Marilou as office manager. Today the firm has grown to 17 attorneys, and Lopez is consistently lauded as one of the best real estate attorneys in the nation.
Lopez, who relied on scholarships to make it through school, is dedicated to helping others.
A former Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Man of the Year, Lopez is a longtime board member of Chicanos Por La Causa. He was president of the Diocese of Tucson School Board and is president of the Catholic Tuition Support Organization. He is vice chair of the Salpointe school board and is a member of the Arizona Land and Water Trust Board.
Lopez, who is an avid photographer and cyclist, credits a book his mom gave him when he was in college with helping him succeed. He still keeps “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life” on the nightstand.
He said having “an amazing wife” has allowed him to reach his goals and juggle his responsibilities. Today they live with their dogs and cats in a lovely foothills home, and relish time spent together as a family.
Lopez is excited to raise money for type 1 diabetes through Father’s Day Council Tucson, and is impressed by the work of Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, director of the UA Steele Children’s Research Center, which is the recipient of funds raised.
“I am amazed at Dr. Ghishan’s energy, enthusiasm and vision for how to attack type 1 diabetes,” Lopez said. “We can all do something to help that mission. When you know you are helping people who are making a difference like Dr. Ghishan, it’s easy to be enthusiastic.”