PHOENIX - Eddie Basha, chairman and CEO of a family-owned grocery store chain that grew to more than 160 stores around Arizona under his four-decade guidance, died Tuesday at 75.
A cause of death wasn't immediately released, but a family spokesman said Basha had been in failing health for some time.
"Eddie was Arizona through and through," Gov. Jan Brewer said. "Born of a pioneer Arizona family, Eddie grew to become one of our state's giants in business, politics and community service. He loved Arizona, and it showed in his decades of devoted work on behalf of Arizona schools and students."
Basha's grandfather and father opened the first of what would become the family-owned supermarket chain in 1932.
He took over the business at age 31 when his dad died in 1968.
Basha guided the Chandler-based company for more than 40 years, and at one time the chain had about 165 stores in all 15 Arizona counties. It also diversified into the Hispanic market with Food City stores and into upscale grocery shopping with AJ's Fine Foods.
Declining sales due to the recession prompted the chain to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. The chain also closed more than 30 unprofitable stores and renegotiated more favorable lease terms on many of its remaining locations.
Basha appeared in the supermarkets' television and newspaper ads, which gave him statewide name and face recognition.
He was appointed to the Arizona Board of Education in 1984 and the state Board of Regents in 1990, and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.
Friends said Basha and his company gave and raised millions of dollars for worthwhile causes around the state for years. He also was known to hand out $100 bills to panhandlers and singlehandedly bailed out many community-service groups.
"Eddie Basha was a giant in our state's history. Not only as a business leader but as a passionate advocate for education," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a written statement. "He will be missed, but never forgotten."
Basha is survived by his wife and six sons, including four from his first marriage.
Funeral plans weren't released Tuesday.