PHOENIX -- Eddie Basha passed away Tuesday, a family friend said.
"This is truly a sad day for Arizona with the passing of Eddie," said Mary Jo West, a friend of the Basha family and former employee of Basha's.
West said that Basha was a bit of a prankster and would often disguise his voice when calling stores and his friends.
"You would have a great, great laugh once you realized it was Eddie," she said.
Basha was 75. He is survived by his wife and six sons.
"It's like an era has passed," said West.
Friends said Basha and his company gave and raised millions of dollars for worthwhile causes around the state for years. He also was known to hand $100 bills out to panhandlers and singlehandedly bailed out countless community-service groups.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton released the following statement on the passing of Basha.
Eddie Basha was a giant in our state's history. Not only as a business leader but as a passionate advocate for education. He served selflessly on the Chandler Unified School District Board, Arizona Board of Education and the Arizona Board of Regents. It is because of Eddie and Nadine we have First Things First, giving thousand of Arizona children a chance for early childhood education. He will be missed, but never forgotten.
William Roe, Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, gave a statement on the loss of Basha.
We are all saddened by the death of Eddie Basha. Eddie's life was a wonderful example of kindness, generosity and humor. He liked to refer to himself as your "friendly neighborhood grocer," but he was so much more. Eddie was a champion of education. The entire state of Arizona benefited from Eddie and his wife Nadine's unwavering dedication to improving our education system. We wish to convey our sympathy and prayers to Eddie's family. Tonight we all mourn the loss of an Arizona giant.
Governor Jan Brewer also released a heartfelt statement in remembrance of Basha.
It was with sadness that I learned this afternoon of the passing of Eddie Basha. I had known and worked with him throughout my 30 years in public service. Regardless of the issue - and we did not always come down on the same side - I invariably found him to be genuine in his beliefs and a gentleman in his actions.
"Eddie was Arizona through and through. Born of a pioneer Arizona family, Eddie grew to become one of our state's giants in business, politics and community service. He loved Arizona, and it showed in his decades of devoted work on behalf of Arizona schools and students.
"Eddie Basha showed all that could - and still can - be accomplished in Arizona with hard work, dedication to community and love of family. That may be his most lasting legacy, and it's one for which his family can be proud.
A cause of death wasn't immediately released, but Basha's family says he had been in failing health for some time.
Basha's grandfather and father opened the first of what would become the family-owned supermarket chain in 1932.
He took over the business at age 31 when his dad died in 1968.
Basha guided the Chandler-based company for more than 40 years and at one time, the chain had about 165 stores serving all 15 of Arizona counties. It also diversified into the Hispanic market with Food City stores and into upscale grocery shopping with AJ's Fine Foods.
Declining sales due to a recession prompted the chain to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. It also closed more than 30 unprofitable stores and renegotiated more favorable lease terms on many of its remaining locations.
Basha appeared on the supermarket's television and newspaper ads, which gave him statewide name and face recognition.
He also served on the Arizona Board of Regents and unsuccessfully ran for Arizona governor in 1994.
Basha is survived by his wife and six sons, including four from his first marriage.
Funeral plans weren't immediately released Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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