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Bob Cauthorn, 1922-2013

If this town ever builds a monument to its conservationists, the memory of Bob Cauthorn should be thus enshrined.

Bob died this week after a long illness. He was 91.

As a member of the Tucson City Council, he led the monumental effort to impose conservation by sharply increasing water rates. This was done through the city water utility, today known as Tucson Water. The increases weren’t just sharp. They were shocking. Otherwise rational people became screaming, foam-at-the-mouth banshees when they saw their water bills. I have described what happened during this time in the city’s history elsewhere on this site.

While Bob was not recalled in an acrimonious recall election, it was because he found a very good job in Florida. He resigned from the council. His empty seat was filled in the recall election. The water war cost four incumbent council members their political careers. When faced with the necessity for conservation, the council successors retained the water-rate increases. Tucson became a national leader in water conservation.

Bob also was a key figure during another city crisis — the public safety strike. Tucson’s policemen left the city unprotected for a time.

After he retired, Bob returned to Tucson a widower. He struck up a friendship with the incomparable community activist and champion of worthy causes Joan Kaye, and they were married.

Politicians come and go without accomplishing much. They get caught up in minutiae. Few can claim a single major accomplishment during their service. Bob Cauthorn will always be among those few.




  1. Bob Cauthorn was a gentleman and a scholar, kind, profoundly intelligent, courtly, and charming. A lovely, lovely man, like Bill Moyers, someone you wish could be around forever, making that one remark that changed the way you saw the world around you. He talked to me about economist Joseph Schumpeter, who came up with the notion of “creative destruction” and taught me, too, through his innate good manners, just a little bit about how to behave – not that I was a star student. Much missed.

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