Getting To Know Barry Goldwater

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As Arizona approaches its centennial, it’s a good time to look back on one of its most noteworthy native sons. Barry Goldwater has to rank at or near the top of the most important Arizonans over the state’s 99-year history. Here’s a brief look at Barry Goldwater.

“The Mogollon Rim is something that every Arizonan lives with and loves, as well as jealously protects the pronunciation of that word. Many times I have been in airplanes and the Captain, attempting to explain the ground we were flying over, would pronounce the name exactly like it looks in print. Then, I would have to go up forward to tell him; ‘No, it’s Mogollon,’ which confuses him no end.” – Barry Goldwater in the foreword to Rim Country History.

When Barry Goldwater wrote that, he was serving the last of five terms in the U.S. Senate, part of a long political career that began in the late 1940s when he was elected to the Phoenix City Council. While Goldwater proudly served for a long time in the U.S. Senate, he is perhaps best known nationally for his run for President in 1964. Goldwater was overwhelmingly defeated in that election by incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been sworn in as President a little under a year before after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In Goldwater’s memoir, Goldwater, he made clear his reservations about running in 1964.

“I also was convinced that the American people were not ready for three presidents in little more than a year. They were not likely to support Johnson-Kennedy opponents. That would be the Democratic ticket in 1964, no matter who Johnson chose as Vice President.”

Goldwater had faced a tough fight in that 1964 election, even in the Republican primaries. Members of his own party branded him a radical as Goldwater helped bring conservatism to the forefront of American politics. Many people believe that he helped jumpstart the conservative movement, setting the stage for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the more conservative political climate seen today.

Goldwater was born Jan. 2, 1909 in Phoenix, Ariz. His father’s family had founded the department store Goldwater’s in Gila City, Arizona Territory in 1860, eventually moving it to Phoenix in 1872. Goldwater’s had numerous locations around the state at various times, including Prescott. Eventually the family sold out to Associated Dry Goods Corporation in 1963.

Barry Goldwater clearly reflects the Arizona experience. He had a true passion for Arizona and he shot more than 15,000 photographs of the state, which now reside in various institutions in Arizona. Many of his photographs can be seen online at www.Barry GoldwaterPhotographs.com. He collected Kachina Dolls, amassing more than 400 at one point before donating them. He was passionate about Native Americans and served on the Indian Affairs Committee while in the U.S. Senate.

A January 18, 1987 Arizona Republic said this about Goldwater and Arizona.

“Growing up in a lusty new frontier state had an undeniable impact on young Barry. In this Arizona of wide-open spaces and limitless opportunity, a youngster learned audacity and self-reliance. Barry fell in love with Arizona’s back country as passionately as any man ever did. He ran the Colorado River rapids, backpacked into the mountains, scaled remote peaks, discovered a natural bridge and made friendships with the proud Hopi and Navajo people.” 

Goldwater also served in the armed forces, including during World War II. He also served in the Air Force Reserve following the war. The Visitor Center at the United States Air Force academy is named in his honor.

Goldwater died on May 29, 1998 and is buried in Paradise Valley. John McCain, the man who succeeded Goldwater in the U.S. Senate, had this to say upon his death:

“When we recall Barry Goldwater’s long and distinguished career, we are reminded of the best attributes of a public servant. A great person’s biography is marked by consistency, integrity and lasting achievement. Such was the life and career of Barry Goldwater. He held his principles close to his heart, where he held his love of country. He lived his public and private lives according to those principles, and woe to the miscreant who ran afoul of them. He always rushed to defend his ground, whether or not the ground he defended was in fashion at the time.”

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