Originally Published: January 26, 2014 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Lou Silverstein, a man whose voice was heard far and wide and whose contributions to his community benefited untold numbers, died Jan. 18, 2014, from complications of pneumonia.
Prescottonians knew Silverstein best as the owner of KYCA and KAHM radio stations, and as "J.P. Mulligan" on his Morning Report every weekday on KYCA.
But people close to Silverstein knew far more about him than that.
The group he gathered with at 7 a.m. every morning for coffee in a downtown Prescott restaurant paint a picture of a man who stood larger than life in their eyes. Prescott City Councilman Jim Lamerson and former Councilman Phil King are just two of the cadre of friends who started each weekday together.
"He was a man of many faces - most of them you couldn't see," Lamerson said. "He had a heart. He was good to the community. He did a lot that people didn't know he was instrumental in getting done."
"Lou was not the kind of guy to blow his own horn," King said. "He did a lot of things for the town over the years, and people don't know about it. He did a lot of things and did them quietly."
Lamerson pointed to Silverstein's love for animals. In fact, King said, Silverstein was a founder of the Yavapai Humane Society in 1971.
Lamerson "will never forget the eulogy" Silverstein delivered on his radio broadcast for a cat he had lost and the feral cat he took in at the station. "He found a friend - a friend you can't find in most people."
Silverstein was born in New Jersey, grew up in Tucson, and began his radio career on the University of Arizona campus when he was a student, and on Tucson station KTUC.
He bought KYCA in 1970, and he built KAHM in 1981.
Silverstein's death has brought great sorrow to his radio stations' staffs.
Jason Zinzilieta has been KYCA station manager for 17 years and began working for Silverstein as a part-time disc jockey in 1987 when he was 16 years old.
"He was a man of honesty and integrity in business and in life," Zinzilieta said. "He impressed that on me from the moment I started working for him. By far, he was the best person I ever worked for.
"And," Zinzilieta said, "he impressed me with his kindness and compassion many, many times. There are not too many people like him left who knew what he did about radio. He saw it all in radio from the golden age to now. His knowledge of broadcasting was immense.
"He was a great mentor for my life in broadcasting as he was for many people in this business."
Lamerson commented on Silverstein's "mindset that people should be free to exercise who they are to their highest and best capability.
"He would put both sides of everything on his radio station," Lamerson said. "He didn't allow his personal feelings to show on his station."
King recalled how helpful Silverstein was to him when he was a candidate and served on the Prescott City Council.
"He helped clarify issues for voters so people knew what was going on," King said. "He got politicians on his show to let people know from their elected officials what was going on in Prescott," as well as round the state and country. "He was kind of an uncle to me." The people of "this town are going to miss him more than they know."
Silverstein was honored by his peers when he was inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2002, and his contribution to his Rotary club won him the Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International award.
When Silverstein's friends praise him for "not tooting his own horn," his swimming achievements would be a prime example of his reticence.
During his college career at the University of Arizona, he set many records and went on to win a multitude of gold medals in Arizona, Pacific and International masters championship meets. His best race was the 1650 - a mile of doing all four strokes in he endurance race.
And he accomplished another major feat as well.
In 1946, he and two classmates proposed to legendary Pop McKale, then the U of A's athletic director, that the university add swimming as a varsity sport.
"Pop talked it over with his staff and, two to three weeks later, they decided to add swimming as a varsity sport," Scott Shake, U of A senior associate athletics director said.
"The beauty of the story is that times are so different now," Shake said. "In today's world, in the Division 1 Elite Level, it might take months or years to make that decision" because of the complexities involved.
"Lou was a true icon, an incredible man and one of our all-time great members of the Wildcat family," Shake said. "What drove him to be successful in swimming - hard work, discipline and (being) goal-oriented - certainly enabled him to have the same level of success in his business career."
Judy Gillies of Tucson met Silverstein on a pool deck somewhere 25 years ago, she said. She, too, has walked away from state meets with championship medals and remembers that he was "very competitive, no matter what age group he was in. He was a perfect example of what master swimming is all about."
Not only did Silverstein support his alma mater's swim program, he was very generous, too, to both teams at Prescott High School and Bradshaw Mountain High School.
He was the driving force behind formation of the swim team at Prescott High, coach Brigid Bunch said.
"He was the one who donated the money to get the PHS swim program going," which started in 2001, she said.
Of Silverstein's personal swimming achievements, Bunch said, "He is known far and wide. He would be in his 80s and he would go to matches and compete in the 200-yard butterfly and the 400 individual medley, and the crowd would erupt. He would always get a standing ovation upon completion of the two hardest events in swimming. He was amazing. We all wanted to be like Lou."
King recalled this adage when he talked about his friend of 34 years.
"A man's greatness is not measured by his fortune or his fame. It's measured by the depth of the legacy he leaves behind."
Silverstein was born on Bastille Day on July 14, 1926, in North Branch, N.J. He served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1946. He is survived by his wife Nancy, with whom he would have celebrated 50 years of marriage on March 9, 2014.
A gathering of friends in celebration of Silverstein's life will be from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in the Hassayampa Inn's Marina Room. The family suggests memorials to the Yavapai Humane Society in his name.