Tom Chandler, a retired attorney considered to be among Tucson’s most dedicated philanthropists, has died. He was 94.
Chandler, who was born in a barn to an impoverished family and spent much of his life helping people in need, died Friday at home of prostate cancer.
No public services are planned. His family plans to sprinkle some of his ashes in the Catalina Mountains overlooking the city he loved.
“It’s a huge loss,” said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, with whom Chandler had a decades-long friendship.
“He was one of the great men of Tucson. His legacy is everywhere.”
Chandler founded or cofounded several organizations, including the Arizona Adopt-a-Classroom Project, which has helped more than 2,000 teachers, and what is now Southern Arizona Legal Aid.
He was a founding member of the Conquistadores, a group that’s raised millions of dollars for local youth sports, and was a past member of the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities.
Chandler, known as a mentor to scores of attorneys and judges throughout his life, co-founded what is now the Udall Law Firm, and played a key role in opening the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
Last year, he received a lifetime achievement award from Greater Tucson Leadership, intended to recognize those whose good works have helped shape the community.
At the time, Chandler insisted he didn’t deserve it, which loved ones said was typical of his humility. “You’ve got the wrong person,” he told officials who knocked on his door to congratulate him on the honor.
Chandler’s daughter, Terry Chandler, a retired Pima County Superior Court judge, said her father wasn’t comfortable with people making a fuss over him.
He preferred working behind the scenes, she said, and was happiest when quietly helping others.
Even animals benefited from his largesse: He was known to carry dry dog food in his car, which he’d hand out to homeless people to feed their pets in addition to giving up his spare change.
Grijalva said Tom Chandler often did legal work on a pro bono basis for those who couldn’t afford an attorney.
A staunch Democrat, Chandler worked on political campaigns for more than half a century, including those of Grijalva, former U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Terry Chandler said her father’s altruism sprang from his own impoverished childhood.
He was born in 1919 in a barn in Oklahoma, one of five siblings who often went hungry during the Great Depression.
The family relocated several times in search of food and work, and settled eventually near Parker, Ariz., where Tom Chandler graduated from high school.
“Sometimes he didn’t eat so his younger siblings could eat,” Terry Chandler said of her father.
“There were times he had to miss school to plant the crops or whatever, and that bothered him. He craved an education.”
Chandler landed at the University of Arizona in the 1940s, starting law school there “with one dime in his pocket,” his daughter said. He graduated at the top of his class in 1946.
In keeping with his aversion to the limelight, Chandler requested that no public services be held upon his passing, his daughter said. The family will hold a private gathering.
“Hopefully, those who knew my father will take a moment to remember him in their own way,” she said.
Chandler is survived by two other daughters, Chris and Kacey Chandler; three sons, Daniel, Rocky and Mark Chandler; and more than 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.