Sitton, hailed as Tucson icon, dies

Voice of UA sports embraced S. Arizona, was tireless in service
2013-08-13T00:00:00Z 2013-08-14T12:02:29Z Sitton, hailed as Tucson icon, diesRyan Finley and Becky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Whether broadcasting the Wildcats' football and basketball games on television or coaching its club rugby team, Dave Sitton was passionate about University of Arizona athletics.

But he didn't let sports define him.

Sitton died Monday morning of a heart attack. He was 58.

Sitton embraced every aspect of Southern Arizona life. He seemed to be everywhere at the same time: Emceeing events, supporting the arts, connecting people and championing charities.

He even ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Congress.

"Dave was energy," said Bob Elliott, Sitton's friend of 40 years and longtime basketball broadcasting partner. "Dave definitely understood that life is about giving. If you've been blessed, then you help others."

Sitton spent his life in service. In death, he was hailed Monday as a Tucson icon.

He was a member of the Tucson Conquistadores, the group that runs the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and spent 30 years on the Tucson Pops board of directors. He served on the board of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority and volunteered for many charitable groups, including the Rotary Club of Tucson.

The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce named Sitton its Man of the Year in 2006.

"I don't think there's anybody in Tucson that did as much for charity as what Dave did," former UA basketball coach Lute Olson said Monday. "He was always the kind of guy that if you needed something, you could call Dave, and he'd know somebody who could help you get things done. … He's a great guy and I think the community will really miss him."

Sitton ran in a Republican special primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2012, but received just 17 percent of the vote in an election won by Jesse Kelly.

Julie Katsel, his friend and former campaign manager, said Sitton "had such a deep desire to serve the community."

"He was very optimistic," she said. "Always the coach, always the champion."

Corey Williams, a player for Olson in the mid-1990s, found that out quickly after joining Sitton for local broadcast coverage of UA basketball games from 2009-10 to 2011-12.

Williams said people used to tell him that "you couldn't meet Dave and not come away with energy," and found that out firsthand while getting to know him during long road trips.

"I used to marvel how busy he was, but I never caught him not smiling. That's what stood out to me - 'How can I get to be that person where I always have a good word?' " Williams said. "He always did speaking engagements, fundraisers. Dave stepped up. He was one of the leaders in Tucson."

A Los Angeles native, Sitton enrolled at the UA 40 years ago with dreams of becoming a baseball star. He switched to rugby when his career was scuttled by injuries. Sitton graduated from the UA in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts; three years later, he began his broadcasting career as the radio voice of the Wildcats' baseball team.

Sitton called UA football and basketball games from 1990-2012. He won Emmy Awards for basketball play-by-play in 2010 and football in 2011. As the UA's longtime club-rugby coach, Sitton worked tirelessly to promote the sport in Southern Arizona. He led the Wildcats to the Rugby Sevens championships tournament in Philadelphia earlier this summer.

Sports was just one of Sitton's many passions. A music devotee, Sitton belted out standards at charity events, often while clad in a tuxedo. Elliott said Sitton "knew The Temptations, and all the Motown songs."

"I remember one time, we had a game at Texas, and (afterwards) we were just walking down Sixth Street (in Austin) singing all the Motown songs," he said. "I was surprised we didn't get arrested."

Sitton met The Beach Boys before their concert at Casino del Sol's AVA in April 2012, fulfilling a lifelong dream. On Sunday evenings in early fall and late spring, you could find Sitton at Reid Park, sitting among thousands of people at the Tucson Pops concerts.

Sitton was chiefly responsible for scaring up funding when the city cut back in recent years, said Pops Music Director László Veres.

"He was, in my book, Mr. Pops," Veres said. "He was the one who got the money so that we could keep going."

Sitton was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma at age 50. His outgoing voice-mail messages would include chemotherapy updates and trash-talk about the cancer that threatened his life.

"To him, it was a personal and a public war," said David Alberts, former director of the Arizona Cancer Center.

After beating cancer, Sitton went to work at the Arizona Cancer Center as marketing director and developed the "Act Against Cancer" marketing campaign with billboards and a radio show.

Sitton was taken by ambulance to Tucson Medical Center early Monday and died shortly after.

His sudden death was a shock.

Elliott had lunch with Sitton last week. They ate Chinese food and talked about a book project.

Sitton told Elliott he felt fine.

"He was … Dave," Elliott said. "He had a lot of friends and he touched a lot of people and he loved a lot of people. What more could you ask of your life?"

Sitton is survived by two adult daughters, Olivia and Blakeney. Services are pending.

"Dave definitely understood that life is about giving. If you've been blessed, then you help others."

Bob Elliott,

Sitton's friend of 40 years and 2/3longtime basketball broadcasting partner

Reporters Bruce Pascoe and Cathalena E. Burch contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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