Southern Arizona lost a lot more than a great, retired journalist with the passage of Ace Bushnell. We lost one of our truly great citizens when he died March 14 at the age of 85.
Born Asa Smith Bushnell III in Springfield, Ohio, in 1925, he was the great-grandson of Asa S. Bushnell who served two terms as the state’s GOP governor. The first Asa Bushnell was a friend and ally to Mark Hanna, that generation’s Karl Rove and generally credited with making William McKinley President. Hanna also isolated the governor of New York by making him vice president in 1900, inadvertently also making Theodore Roosevelt the later assassinated McKinley’s successor.
His father, Asa S. Bushnell II, was a legendary sports figure at Princeton. I didn’t know that until the 1970s, when a Princeton grad who was visiting me noticed Ace’s column in the paper and asked if he was related to THE Ace Bushnell. I set up a meeting for them, something that occurred throughout Ace’s life as he graciously met with a host of fellow Princetonians. Ace for many years was secretary of the Princeton Class of ’47.
Ace served in many capacities and received so many awards that one can only highlight them. He joined the Marines right out of Hill Prep School in Pennsylvania and was later an FBI Special Agent. His newspaper tour as columnist and editorial page editor was the last of four that started in the 1940s when he began as a sports reporter. Over the years he worked for a number of other papers, everywhere from Upland, California, to Princeton, New Jersey. He also served as the public relations director for both the attorney general of New Jersey and the New Mexico Sheriff’s and Police Association.
In 1982, at an age when most are close to retirement, Ace became the community relations director for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, a post he held for 23 years. Like everything else he did, Ace made more of this job than the title indicates. Cop shops have an inordinately high number of stress-related problems, including alcoholism and substance abuse. Ace knew that firsthand, having successfully dried out himself in 1969, and he dedicated the rest of his life to helping others do the same. One former high-ranking PCSD official said he couldn’t count the number of lives he personally knew Ace had turned around and saved.
Ace received what he considered his highest honor when he shared The Haven’s Chrysalis Award with longtime Compass Health Care CEO Joan McNamara just four days before his death. He spent many years working with Compass and its predecessors, Gateway, Inc., and the Tucson Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. He was also past chairman of the Compass Foundation. In 2004 he also shared with the Jorgensen Award with Ms. McNamara.
Other awards included the 2003 Orville S. McPherson Award from the Rotary Club of Tucson, of which he was president in 1986-87 and had 30 years and seven months of perfect attendance; The 2004 Founders Award from the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce; and the 2003 Humanitarian Award from the Western Regional Society of Former FBI Agents. In 2005 he was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. Ace was also active in and helped form 88-Crime.
Ace and his wife, Cheri Cross-Bushnell, had a love for older films. They annually presented them at their home, giving us their personal selections of Bogie and Stanwyck. A few years back, fellow KVOI radio host Charles Heller and I picked for our annual July 4th movie at The Loft — “Winchester 73” starring James Stewart and filmed all around the Tucson area in 1948. We were honored to have as part of the presentation the newspaper reporter who covered the making of that movie, Ace Bushnell. The private stuff about Shelly Winters is not repeatable here.
Asa S. Bushnell III did more for this community in so many ways than most can imagine. He will be missed by all who knew him, and his efforts by even many more who did not.
Services will be held on Saturday, March 26 at 10 a.m. at Casas Church, 10801 N. La Cholla Blvd.