Larger Than Life

Longtime Pima County Democratic Party leader remembered by his family

Martin Bacal died at age 84 on February 14 of an apparent heart attack. He was a dominant and impactful community leader; nonetheless, he never strove for attention and remained behind the scenes. He has been called the nuts and bolts of the Pima County Democratic Party.

Although he never ran for public office, he worked on hundreds of local and national campaigns for more than 40 years. As a family man, he was larger than life, and a driving force for his children and grandchildren. He was also the partner of his wife, Eva, for 58 years. He was a consummate Tucsonan who loved this city and never wanted to be away for long stretches of time.

Born in New York City, Martin moved with his parents to Tucson in 1934. His father, Harry Bacal, opened the first paint factory in the southwest, Pioneer Paint and Varnish Co. Harry Bacal was also a community leader: Tucson man of the year, Jewish man of the year, and one of the founders of the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

Martin went to Sam Hughes, Mansfeld and Tucson High schools. He graduated from Columbia University where he met and married Eva. In 1960, they moved back to Tucson, where Martin began working for his father at the paint factory. Upon the death of his father in 1963, Martin became president of Pioneer Paint, which he ran until its sale in 1993. Together Martin and Eva Bacal raised five children and later had six grandchildren.

Martin was very active in the local, state, and national Democratic Party. His interest in politics began as a result of his fondness and admiration for Mo Udall. He was involved in Mo's 1976 presidential campaign and many of his congressional races. He helped his wife Eva in her first race for school board in 1976 and later in three consecutive successful campaigns. He also helped direct her campaign for Pima County Board of Supervisors and the United States Congress against incumbent Jim Kolbe prior to his last term. Martin Bacal was the National Committeeman for Arizona for 12 years and attended at least four Democratic National conventions. He helped start the Pima County Nucleus club, the fundraising arm of the Pima County Democratic Party. He was currently corresponding secretary for the Pima County Democratic Party. Martin was active as precinct-committeeperson and also recruited others to register to vote and to become more involved in the Democratic Party. Martin knew the bylaws so well that there was no need to double-check when Martin answered a question.

As his children and grandchildren, our lasting memory of Martin is as the smartest person we have ever met. His son remembers him reading the dictionary and encyclopedia for fun, while retaining every fact that he read. He carried the heavy burden of never being wrong. He was tall and broad-shouldered, intense and focused. He could be loud and impatient. His grandchildren jumped every time he sneezed. Even so, he was an incredibly patient teacher. He cared for his mother in her later stages of life, as she lived at her own home until her death at age 103. No man has changed as much as Martin when he had grandchildren, becoming so much more gentle, patient and tender. With his own children, he was always the one we turned to for help and always willing to help us get through any problem. He was extremely proud of his grandson Nathan, who was elected national delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Because he was so knowledgeable and so concerned with following the correct procedures and rules, and because he was always so sure he was right, Martin didn't always go without disagreements. Forceful and self-assured, he was surprisingly an excellent listener, a patient teacher and a practical compromiser. He was a long-time feminist, always supporting the advancement of women's rights and equality. Martin always thought that the Democratic Party had to be the party for women, minorities, the middle class, the working class, and he also believed Democrats to be the party for the small businessman.

Despite never seeking attention, honor, or accolades, he has been a community leader in every sense..

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