Former Tucson City Councilman Robert C. Cauthorn died Tuesday at age 91.

He had a short but famous career in Tucson politics.

Cauthorn, then an economics professor at the University of Arizona, was one of four “new Democrats” who introduced the concept of “cost of service” water pricing in Tucson — a move toward conservation of water supply that would cost all four their jobs.

The new rate structure — introduced in July 1976 — produced average increases of 22 percent, and much higher bills for Tucson Water’s Foothills customers who also had to pay “lift charges” to offset the cost of the power needed to supply them.

A backlash, from ratepayers and from home builders who already opposed the council’s “controlled growth” agenda, led to a recall of Cauthorn colleagues Doug Kennedy, Margot Garcia and Barbara Weymann in January 1977.

Cauthorn resigned before the recall election to take a job as an administrator for community services in Broward County, Florida, where he worked in a variety of positions until his retirement and return to Tucson.

The “water recall” marked a shift in Tucson attitudes toward its water future. Lawns began to go out of fashion and conservation came into vogue.

It was the beginning of a serious discussion about Tucson’s water future, said his son, Robert S. Cauthorn. “I don’t think anybody in Tucson had heard the word aquifer before then.”

Cauthorn said he remembers exactly when his father decided to run for office.

It was July 21, 1969, and his father had planned an evening rally to persuade the city to create a small park on a piece of vacant land near the Cauthorn home.

It was also the evening that astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The Cauthorns rigged up a line of extension cords and brought their television to the park, but the crowd was still sparse.

The vacant lot, just west of North Campbell Avenue on East Grant Road, did eventually become a park and remains one.

Cauthorn was the brains of the City Council’s new Democrats, said Tucson attorney John Crow, who was drawn into political activism when Cauthorn asked him to join opposition to plans to build elevated freeways through Tucson.

“He was the smart one. He led the charge for change in this community,” Crow said.

At a memorial Friday, Cauthorn’s brief political career was barely mentioned as friends and family remembered his compassion, kindness and sense of humor.

Cauthorn, an Army veteran of World War II, taught at the UA, Arizona State University and the University of West Virginia during his academic career.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Jo Cauthorn, another of the “New Democrats” who served a term in the Arizona Legislature.

Cauthorn is survived by his wife, Joan Kaye Cauthorn; a sister, Margaret Cauthorn Stevens and children, Robert, James, Daniel, Matthew, Jennifer Kaye Marsden and Jill Kohl.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.