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Nichols remembered as passionate teacher, lawmaker

Headline Photo

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Senator, medical prof loved students, health care reform

PHOENIX - Sen. Andy Nichols, who died Thursday after collapsing in his Phoenix office, will be remembered by university colleagues as a tireless teacher, health care innovator and legislative champion for the UA.

Nichols was a doctor and professor of family and community medicine, and founded the UA's Rural Health Office in 1970. The Tucson Democrat was elected to the Arizona Senate in 2000 after serving eight years in the House of Representatives.

University of Arizona President Peter Likins released a statement expressing the university community's sense of gratitude for Nichols' dedication.

"Andy Nichols' focus was not only on rural health, but on health care for the undeserved in our state," Likins stated. "When I spoke with Andy just a few weeks ago, the subject on his mind was adequate funding for higher education. We will miss having a champion for these issues in the Legislature."

Nichols had just completed a phone call in his Senate office when he put his head down on his desk and collapsed on the floor at about 6 p.m. Thursday. Two students were in his office, and one performed CPR.

Nichols was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Alison Hughes, associate director of the UA's Rural Health Office, worked with Nichols for 14 years and said he loved being around students.

She said at graduation ceremonies, Nichols was always on the platform with the university president, wearing his Stanford cap and gown.

"He loved being with students," Hughes said. "His favorite quote was 'We who serve teach and we who teach serve.'"

Nichols got his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College in 1959, his medical degree from Stanford University in 1964 and his master's degree in public health from Harvard University in 1970. He served in the Peace Corps in Peru from 1966 to 1968.

Cathy Nichols, the senator's daughter and political adviser, said her father was "very loved by his students," who sent flowers and cards to his Senate office.

"He never let his teaching slide," she said. "He always had 16-hour days and loved every minute of it."

Cathy Nichols also said her father met with students in his Phoenix office on weekends and taught a course in public health Wednesday night by conference call.

"He's done more in the state for rural health care than almost anyone," she said. "Rural health care was his key love in life."

UA lobbyist Greg Fahey first met Nichols when he was working as a staff member in the Senate and Nichols would lobby the Legislature on behalf of health care issues.

Fahey said Nichols recalled images of the "Energizer bunny" because of his persistence in pushing his issues.

"He didn't give up," Fahey said. "He was effective because of his tremendous persistence connected to his intelligence."

Although Nichols is remembered primarily for his contributions to public health, Fahey said he was a tremendous supporter of the UA and interested in all levels of education.

"Andy shouldn't be seen as a one-note legislator," Fahey said.

Another of Nichols' primary issues was creating a better state employee retirement package.

This past year, Nichols was a key proponent of Proposition 204, a measure passed by voters in November which will use Arizona's share of tobacco settlement dollars to expand health-care coverage for the state's working poor.

An estimated 250,000 people will qualify for health insurance under Prop. 204, but Cathy Nichols said although that may be an "impressive legacy," her father did not see it as a stopping point.

He eventually saw every person in the state having adequate health care and never stopped working toward that goal.

Among Nichols' other recent legislative initiatives was the realization of a nine-year battle to lower the DUI limit to 0.08 and a push to boost prescription drug benefits for senior citizens.

Cathy Nichols said her father was a "true Renaissance man" who "never let an issue go."

"He loved being a senator and was never ambitious for himself," she said, adding that her father was a "true citizen lawmaker."

"He was persistent, which is a sign of someone who will succeed," she added.

Nichols is survived by wife Ann and three children, Cathy, Michael and Miles.

Information regarding a university memorial service will be released later this week.