Local | Obituaries

Paul Ash, community leader, weighlifting champ, dies

Paul Ash

Real estate executive, world-class athlete and Tucson community leader Paul Ash, 81, died in Encinitas, Calif., on June 24, 2012.

Paul Ash in 1957, when he won the U.S. national weightlifting championship (Courtesy Bruce Ash)

“When the term ‘the greatest generation’ was coined, Paul Ash could very well have been the prototype,” says Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. “He lived an extraordinary life and was truly a self-made success story in terms of his accomplishments as an athlete and in business.”

Born in New York City, Mr. Ash left high school at age 16 to enlist in the U.S. Army as an underage volunteer, ultimately serving as a military police officer. In 1948, he moved to Tucson to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona and continue his service in the U.S. Army Reserves. He was honorably discharged in 1960 as a first lieutenant.

As a Wildcat, Mr. Ash embarked upon a successful athletic career in weightlifting. He competed at an international level until 1965, won two U.S. titles in the middle heavyweight division and held the American press record for the 225 lb. weight class. He won two gold medals at the 1957 and 1961 Maccabiah Games in Israel and later served as the U.S. national team coach at the 1977 and 1981 games. Mr. Ash was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Mr. Ash started his business career as a vacuum cleaner salesman for Sears and Roebuck. Later, he joined Gough Industries as the appliance manufacturer’s representative for Southern Arizona. In 1965, he got his start in the real estate business from Hans Voit and later formed a real estate development and property management firm in Tucson. For nearly 50 years, the company, now known as Paul Ash Management Company, grew to employ more than 250 people, including his son Bruce and grandson Michael.

Mr. Ash supported philanthropic causes to aid young athletes and promote the arts, and was “the central force behind the building of the Tucson Jewish Community Center,” says Mellan. Mr. Ash was a former president of the TJCC, a member of many other community boards, and an original founder of one of the first political action committees created in support of Israel, The Desert Caucus.

Remarking on Mr. Ash’s lifelong optimism, his son Bruce noted that his father always said he was “fortunate to have so many close friends to work with in business as well as in his community work whom he admired and learned from.”

Among those friends were Ruthie and Ron Kolker. Speaking on behalf of them both, Ruthie Kolker said, “He was a good, good friend of ours and a really respected leader in the community. We loved spending time with Bridget and Paul.”

Mr. Ash was preceded in death by his wife of 37 years, Luana Fay Gagliardi. He is survived by his children, Bruce (Jane) Ash and Jacqueline (Bruce) Hungate, both of Tucson, and Shellie (Kenneth) Harrison of Calabasas, Calif.; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; wife, Bridget Carnell, whom he married in 2004, and stepchildren, Jeff and Greg Carnell.

Services were held at Congregation Anshei Israel, with Rabbis Arthur R. Oleisky, Ben Herman and Yossie Shemtov officiating. Interment followed at Evergreen Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Tucson Jewish Community Center (TucsonJCC.org) and The U.S. Sports for Israel Committee (MaccabiUSA.com).