Plucky and dogged Roger Axford had a disarming way of promoting peace and nonviolence. In June 1999, he organized the East Valley Father’s Day Gun Meltdown, urging folks to turn in handguns and behold a “Beat Your Guns Into Plowshares” display.
In a much ballyhooed death penalty debate at Arizona State University with cocky national talk-show host Morton Downey Jr., Axford walked out when most of the audience, by a show of hands, said they would volunteer “to pull the switch" on someone sentenced to death.
“For my nine children” was the pat answer he gave whenever asked about his often unpopular activism.
Axford, a retired Arizona State University professor emeritus in education, died Thursday of cancer at age 83. His wife of 54 years, Geri Axford, called her husband “a true pacifist in every act of life” who “has been a thorn in the side of some of our leaders.”
Axford became a well-known figure in the East Valley for his wide range of causes over the course of nearly three decades.
“Roger was intractably opposed to war and he often crowed about the fact that he was a conscientious objector and was imprisoned,” recalled friend and Valley grocer Eddie Basha. “He believed in his principles. This was a man of convictions.”
In March 1997, Axford was handcuffed and arrested on charges of criminal trespass for gathering names on petitions in the ASU Memorial Union to get former Navajo Chairman Peter McDonald released from a federal prison because of failing heath. The case was later dropped, but not before Axford helped make it a First Amendment embarrassment for ASU.
Held in five federal prisons for two years as a conscientious objector during World War II, Axford founded the Coalition for Justice and Peace at ASU, which for 29 years has held brown-bag luncheons for students, faculty and the community on a spectrum of issues. He taught for 21 years at ASU.
Axford, who held master and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago in sociology and adult education respectively, wrote and lectured widely about recareering for older adults. He developed the Recareering Institute to encourage older people to launch meaningful and productive second careers.
“He was interested in the continuous learning and growth of people,” said Basha. “He believed that the mind never dies, the mind lives and you have to nurture it.”
He wrote 27 books, several on recareering. Among them were “The Best Fourth of Life," “Speaking About Adults” and “Successful Recareering: How to Shift Gears Before You Are Over the Hill.”
A series of books profiled leading "heroes” by ethnicity, such as blacks, Japanese, Hispanics and American Indians, and he produced joke books, and others on peace, art and marriage.
“He was one of our first supporters of the Arizona Institute for Peace Education and Research,” said Kathy Schwarz of Scottsdale.
“He is going to leave a very deep mark in the Valley for his work on nonviolence, peace and his anti-death penalty vigils,” she said.
When Arizona resumed executions in 1992 after a 29-year break, Axford was among the first to speak out and lead vigils at the state prison at Florence.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Arizona Funeral Services handled arrangements. He is survived by his wife, three children, Naida Axford, Scott Axford and Vicki Austin, nine grandchildren and two sisters, Marian Axford Shea and Helen Moision.