The Skinny

The Hard Stuff

Mike Hard: Retired banker, community builder and the best dad you could hope for

With Father's Day on the horizon, I'd like to say a few things about my father-in-law, Michael Hard.

Michael came into the world in 1937 in Long Island and grew up on the water, but he's made his home in the desert for more than five decades after he fell in love in Kathy Hard, the daughter of a family of Arizona pioneers.

Michael met Kathy when he was still a student at Connecticut's Pomfret School. Later, when he had breaks during his semesters at Yale—where he studied the classics and, as captain of the rowing team, competed in England's Henley Royal Regatta—he would travel out to Arizona to get to know her better.

He can still remember walking off the plane into the Arizona weather for the first time during a Christmas break: "I had just come from cold, dreary New York weather, and stepping out of that plane into the soft desert air, I thought, my God, this is amazing."

In '59, after graduating from Yale, Mike married Kathy and then was off to sea during his stint in the Navy, which included a trip toward Cuba during the Missile Crisis.

After three years as a sailor, Michael decided to launch a career in banking. "I tried to think of the people that I really admired and there were two of them whom I thought, well, if they think banking is a worthwhile profession, I ought to consider it," he told me recently.

He tried New York for a few weeks, but realized home was Arizona. He headed back here to take a job with Valley National Bank. In those days, the bank's legendary founder, Walter Bimson, was still chairman of the board and Michael had a chance to work with a man he admired. One thing that has stuck with him all these years: Bimson's philosophy that the bank "be deeply involved in our communities and support them with both our resources and our time to make Arizona a better place."

It was an ethos that Michael happily embraced. He did a lot from his perch as a vice president. He traveled across the state and met everyone in the banks, from the tellers to the loan officers. He helped launch the Tucson Mariachi Festival. He's been a pillar of support for organizations like the Amerind Foundation, Brown Foundation, Museum of Northern Arizona, Tucson Airport Authority, Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and the like. He's been named Man of the Year by the Tucson Metro Chamber and all that jazz.

And if you ever get a chance, ask him about the time a guy came into his office claiming to have a bomb in a hare-brained scheme to rob the bank. It's a wild story, though I don't have space to go into it.

You can find plenty of folks in this town across the political spectrum who will sing Michael Hard's praises. In fact, I've yet to come across anyone who has known him who has a bad word to say. Politicians, developers, business leaders, car dealers, artists, environmentalists—they've all told me how much they admire Michael Hard.

But one of his happiest memories in that old, beautiful Valley National Bank building, on the corner of Congress and Stone, is the day when his son Mike stopped by with a crew of his fellow high-school track teammates while out for a practice run.

"That, to me, was the ultimate example of why I made the right choice," he says, "because my family could come and visit me during the day."

Mike says his dad is a renaissance man who loves the classics, reads Latin and can still recite the first lines from Canterbury Tales.

"He really comes from the old school, but the thing about him that is really old school is that he believes in just being a kind and curious man and I just really think there are very few like him," Mike says. "He really is about as honest as you can be, as kind as you can be. He was a quiet, and steadfast role model by example. He defines my image of what it means to be a father and a husband."

Michael's other son, Chris, remembers that his dad "was always cheering you on." Chris was a good baseball player, but he really wanted to get up on the mound and be a pitcher.

"I remember dad spending lots of time with me and giving me encouragement. I never got good but it wasn't because of my dad. He was that kind of guy. You'd go on a vacation and he'd practice with you and encourage you and give you tips."

And Jennifer, his beautiful daughter and my wife, says life with her dad was always adventurous: There were epic campouts with family and friends in Rocky Point, trips to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, performances at the opera.

"I always wanted to do stuff with him, like I wanted to mow the lawn and do whatever the boys did with him just because I wanted to do things with dad," Jennifer says. "He was my hero, I wanted to be just like him. He influenced me in countless ways. I can't even think of all of them. He inspired me to work hard and be a better person because of the type of person he was."

One memory all the kids share: Waiting at the end of the day for the sound of Michael's MG—a high-school graduation gift from his grandmother—to come rolling home. The car made such a racket you could hear it from a block away.

"It was the sign that dad was coming home," Jennifer says. "We were young and so excited that dad was coming home. Plus, that car was really cool."

Happy Father's Day, Michael! I can't tell you how proud I am to have you as a father-in-law.