By David Pittman
A Powerful Force for Good’
The life of Donald R. Diamond – an immensely successful and influential real estate investor/developer, businessman and philanthropist in Tucson for more than 50 years – came to an end March 25 in the Diamond Children’s Tower at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson. He was 91.
Diamond leaves a legacy of philanthropy that will continue to have positive impact on Tucson and Southern Arizona for decades to come. He also leaves Diamond Ventures, the leading Arizona real estate development company he founded in 1988, in excellent position for continued success.
“Donald Diamond was a charismatic and visionary leader who drove development in Southern Arizona for many years and prepared us for the extraordinary economic progress that can be achieved here,” said Ron Shoopman, former president and CEO of Southern Arizona Leadership Council and current chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. “Donald realized his dreams, but it wasn’t about himself – it was about the quality properties he created and his extraordinary philanthropic contributions.”
At a memorial ceremony two days after Diamond’s passing, Stuart Mellan, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, called Diamond “a one-of-a-kind leader.”
“His business ambitions were large and his dreams for our community were large,” Mellan said. “Donald was a powerful force for good in our community, a fulfiller of dreams and a visionary who always cast his gaze toward the future. Because he was so smart, I sometimes felt he actually knew the future. Certainly he knew things before I did.”
Diamond was a natural leader. He had the ability to convince others to join him. Mellan said, “His leadership would translate vision into reality. Look around our community and you can plainly see this – over and over again.”
Last fall, the Diamond Family Foundation committed more than $747,000 to the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona in order to retire its debt, thereby increasing the organization’s ability to expand its early education initiatives. “The quality of life would be much different in Tucson and Southern Arizona without the caring compassion and generosity of the Diamond Family Foundation,” said Tony Penn, president and CEO of the local United Way.
Diamond spearheaded the construction of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, which opened in 1989. He also contributed millions to University of Arizona projects including the Eller College of Management, Center for Judaic Studies and McKale Center renovations.
In 2007, the Diamonds made one of the largest charitable gifts in Arizona history – $15 million toward development of the Diamond Children’s Medical Center on the Banner campus.
Dr. Fayez Ghishan – director of Steele Children’s Research Center, physician-in-chief at Diamond Children’s Medical Center and UA professor – has said that lead gift for the Children’s Medical Center enabled university officials to approach the bond market to borrow the additional money needed to make the hospital a reality. “When they learned we had $15 million, we got another $60 million within 24 hours,” he said.
The Father’s Day Council Tucson – which raises funds for the research center – honored Diamond as a Father of the Year in 1998.
The Diamond family also was instrumental in establishing and supporting the Steele Children’s Research Center. Diamond Ventures has also supported Integrative Touch for Children, Tucson Youth Development, Primavera Foundation, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Tu Nidito and the Salvation Army.
Mellan credited Donald’s wife, Joan, for insisting the Diamond family share its success with the community. He said Joan “had a very big heart” and was “a strong partner with Donald in making our world and community a better place.”
“Their significant financial contributions have vastly improved the quality of life for thousands of people and it will continue to do so for decades,” said Donald Pitt, a Tucson lawyer and longtime friend and business associate of Diamond’s. “Don used his success as a businessman and developer to carry out a value system his wife brought out in him to the greatest extent.”
The Diamonds had three daughters – Jennifer, Deanne and Helaine. The couple shared a strong conviction about helping children because of the tragic death of Deanne at age 14 from complications from asthma treatment.
“My wife and I always felt the philanthropic gifts we made toward children’s health gave meaning to the life of our daughter, who passed too soon,” Diamond said shortly after Joan died. “We thought our contributions gave purpose to her life because it has resulted in so much good in the lives of so many other children.”
Diamond was incredibly opportunistic in business. He made his first fortune in New York as a Wall Street commodities broker. He made a second in land acquisitions and real estate development after moving to Tucson in 1965.
“If you had money, there were great opportunities,” Diamond said in a 2009 interview with BizTucson. “I was buying real estate at $900 to $1,000 an acre. My God, it was a steal. A lot of the land I purchased was against the National Forest, and that was like being on the water where I came from. I bought as much as I could.”
A 450-acre acquisition in the Catalina Foothills became Pima County Estates, a custom-home site. Another 160-acre foothills purchase is now The Canyons, a premier luxury-home location. Diamond also scooped up nearly 13,000 acres of the Howard Hughes estate properties. On and on it went.
Diamond also was an original owner of the Phoenix Suns and an initial investor in the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was an owner and president of NBC affiliate KVOA-TV from 1971 to 1982. He was a partner in Arizona Mail Order from 1975 to 1998. He became an owner of Old Tucson Studios in 1984, which is now owned by his daughter, Helaine Levy.
But the Diamond business best positioned for continued success is the aptly named Diamond Ventures. The company specializes in residential and commercial real estate and private equity investments. It has owned more than 25,000 acres of developed and planned residential property and has made more than 2 million square feet of industrial, retail and office transactions.
Pitt said, “Donald set up an outstanding business, which has an incredible staff and is in the capable hands of David Goldstein (president) and Helaine, who has a great combination of her mother and father’s finest attributes and will continue to oversee Diamond Family Philanthropies.”