Visionary Founder of Rancho Sahuarita
By David Pittman
Robert “Bobby” Sharpe, a legendary businessman who founded and developed Rancho Sahuarita, died Aug. 28 after a heroic 4½-year battle with brain cancer. He was 67.
Sharpe is known as the visionary creator of Rancho Sahuarita, an award-winning master-planned community 20 miles south of Tucson. He transformed a 3,000-acre dormant cotton farm into a thriving development of more than 18,000 residents and 5,700 homes, along with growing business and commercial operations.
Sharpe, who earned a law degree from the University of Arizona in 1982, raised the money needed to buy the Rancho Sahuarita property at bargain-basement prices from the Resolution Trust Corp. in 1993. In 1994, the development was incorporated into the new Town of Sahuarita. In 2002, the first home closed in Rancho Sahuarita. In 2008, it was recognized as the best-selling community in Arizona and the fifth best-selling nationwide.
Rancho Sahuarita received widespread accolades. In 2014, it was named a “Project of the Decade” by Metro Pima Alliance. That same year, the Urban Land Institute honored it as one of 13 projects worldwide that demonstrate best practices in building healthy communities.
“We envisioned Rancho Sahuarita as a place where residents could have more time to enjoy what’s really important in life – like family, friends and fun,” Sharpe told BizTucson two years ago. “It’s all about offering a lifestyle that makes people’s lives easier – and more meaningful and enjoyable.”
To accomplish that goal, Rancho Sahuarita provides residents with a wealth of amenities, including resort-style clubhouses, pools, a 24-hour fitness center and regularly scheduled annual events. There are 17 miles of paved trails, multiple parks, tree-lined streets with sidewalks and a 10-acre, man-made lake. Land was provided for the local school district to build seven campuses.
Marty Moreno, a former vice mayor of Sahuarita, remembered a discussion she had with Sharpe during Rancho Sahuarita’s early days in which he spoke of his goals for the development.
”We were standing on the deck of the waterpark discussing Sahuarita,” Moreno said. “It was at that moment his most honest intentions were evident. His eyes lit up like a 500-watt bulb when he talked about children growing up in the neighborhoods with mini-parks, soccer and baseball fields near their homes, and the pride of affordable homes for all.
“As I listened to him speak of families building foundations here, I came to respect his vision. His intentions were not about national awards or money, but rather about creating a community unlike any other.”
About half of the available land for development is occupied, meaning there’s more room to complete Sharpe’s vision. Leadership on that front has been passed to his son, Jeremy, the COO of Rancho Sahuarita Management and president of Sharpe Associates.
“Our company is very strong and we are very strong in the community,” said Jeremy Sharpe, who received an MBA from the UA Eller College of Management in 2012. “We will continue to develop Rancho Sahuarita with the same values and intentions established by my father.”
Sharpe was diagnosed in March 2015 with glioblastoma – the same type of cancer that took the life of U.S. Sen. John McCain. Initially, Sharpe was told he had 15 months to live. He refused to accept that prognosis.
During his long treatment, Sharpe maintained the same tenacity, persistence and determination he used in business. He made a conscious decision not to succumb to depression or bitterness. Instead, he preferred to be grateful for every day he had remaining.
Sharpe made it his mission to raise money and awareness for brain cancer research. He collected more than $1 million for research initiatives through events like the Phoenix Brain Tumor Walk, the 2017 and 2019 Rancho Sahuarita Cancer Walks, as well as personal appeals.
“My dad often said everything was about creating memories,” Jeremy said. “So when he traveled to see doctors at university medical centers like Duke and UCLA, our family – which included my mother, me and my two sisters, and all of our spouses – would go on what we called ‘cancer trips.’ Those journeys were filled with laughter and joy because my dad insisted on making the best of every situation. We made memories – and it was very special.”
Jeremy said his mother, Deborah Newman Sharpe, “was a rock” throughout his father’s illness. “My mom became an expert in everything about the brain, the cancer and how to best support and take care of my dad. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have been able to keep going. And if he was here he would say the same thing.”
Sharpe is also survived by his 101-year-old mother, Rose Jean Sharpe, and four grandchildren.