By Jay Gonzales –
As a high school teenager blessed with the talent to play major college basketball, Bob Elliott left his home near Detroit in search of the perfect place to grow, play basketball and get an education. He hadn’t been in Tucson long visiting the University of Arizona when a chance encounter with a local let him know he might be standing somewhere that would be special to him.
“On my recruiting trip, I remember being at El Con Mall,” Elliott recalled. “I was in a store looking at pants, and this lady next to me started giving me her opinion, but in a nice way. That does not happen in Detroit.”
More than 40 years later, Elliott considers himself one of the locals, embedded in the Tucson community as a recognizable face, not only for his basketball exploits at UA from 1973 to 1977, but as a businessman and community leader so dedicated to making Tucson a better place that he was named the 2014 Greater Tucson Leadership Man of the Year.
When Elliott graduated from the UA with a degree in accounting, he and his wife, Beverely, who married after his sophomore year, decided to make their home in Tucson. Elliott spent six years traveling to play professional basketball, including a stint in Italy, but Tucson was always home for the couple. Once they decided to stay, they were all in, and raised a family of four kids here.
“Tucson is a special community,” Elliott said. “The combination of the people, the weather, the mountains – it’s a beautiful place to live.”
Elliott also recognized that his profile as a UA basketball player in a basketball town like Tucson would benefit him. During summers at the UA, he interned at local accounting firms. In 1983, when his basketball career was over, he established Elliott Accounting, which he operates today.
“Because it’s the University of Arizona, because of University of Arizona basketball, because it’s a basketball town, people here knew a lot more about me other than the fact that I wore No. 55,” Elliott said.
He understood that connections mattered, and if he were to succeed, he needed to connect with business and community leaders who could advise him and lead him down the path he ultimately took. His list of influences during his four decades in Tucson is a who’s who of the community – starting with John P. Schaefer, who was UA president when Elliott arrived on campus.
It was Schaefer and then athletic director Dave Strack who made the bold hire of Fred Snowden to be the Wildcats’ basketball coach. Snowden, who had been a high school and college coach in the Detroit area, including at the University of Michigan, became the first African American to be hired as head coach at a major college basketball program. And players from Michigan followed, including Elliott.
“If those three don’t do what they did, we are not here having this discussion,” Elliott said during an interview with BizTucson.
Elliott still considers attorney Peter Economidis and Canyon Ranch founder Mel Zuckerman two of the advisers he affectionately refers to as his “Fab Five,” a group that helped him develop as a businessman and community leader. He said there was always a helping hand reaching out to him as he was establishing himself, and he considers it his responsibility to be the same for others – hence the bevy of boards and charitable efforts and giving that earned him the Man of the Year award. He will be honored Feb. 7 at the 62nd Annual Man and Woman of the Year and Founders Award Gala at Loews Ventana Canyon.
His current involvement includes serving as board chair for UNS Energy Corporation-Fortis and AAA of Arizona. He has served on numerous local and national boards.
“He has touched more lives in Tucson than most folks could ever imagine,” said Daisy Jenkins of Daisy Jenkins & Associates, who nominated Elliott.
David Hutchens, president and CEO of Tucson Electric Power, said Elliott brings “wisdom, a keen business sense and an appreciation that Southern Arizona’s success depends on the willingness of corporate leaders to commit their time and energy to address our community’s most pressing needs. He brings a joyful, generous spirit and infectious positive attitude that make even the most daunting challenges seem manageable.”
Mike Tully, president and CEO of AAA Arizona, said Elliott “embodies the caliber of leader and citizen who continuously gives back to the community. He loves Tucson and his leadership impact has been felt across the community.”
Elliott said he and his wife believe in giving back to the community where they have prospered. “That’s why we are who we are, why we do what we do and how we do it. That’s why we’re Tucsonans.”