In the last years of Barry Goldwater’s life, the former U.S. senator rejected efforts to add to a lengthy list of places and buildings named in his honor.
But six years after his death, his admirers still want to pay more homage to the legendary politician, photographer and ham radio operator. So today, a state board will debate a request to name the highest peak of the White Tank Mountains in the West Valley after Goldwater.
Supporters argue that Arizona has waited long enough to recognize one of its best-known sons with a natural landmark. Goldwater’s family is split on whether the proposal is appropriate.
The State Board on Geographic and Historic Names will consider the name "Goldwater Peak" for the highest mountain in the White Tank range at a 10 a.m. meeting today at the state Capitol Museum.
The request comes from the Arizona National Guard Historical Society, with the support of Maricopa County, which maintains a regional park in the mountain range.
The White Tank Mountains aren’t as prominent as some other features in the Valley, but they had special meaning for Goldwater as a military transport pilot, said society president Joseph Abodeely.
The White Tank range serves as a marker for military aircraft that use Luke Air Force Base about 7 1 /2 miles east. Goldwater started his training for the Army Air Corps at Luke when the base opened in 1941. Goldwater, who lived in Paradise Valley, also hiked the range and most likely used a nearby radio tower as a ham radio operator, Abodeely said.
"So often, people try to memorialize people who have passed away with things that the living" think are appropriate and want to identify for themselves, Abodeely said. "This peak kind of represents something that we believe Barry Goldwater would have more personally identified with."
But some of Goldwater’s relatives said the humble man wouldn’t have liked the idea. Sites that bear his name include Terminal Four at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a boulevard in Scottsdale and a military flight training range in western Arizona.
"Personally, I’m not in favor of (renaming the mountain Goldwater Peak) because I don’t think my father would be," daughter Joanne Goldwater said. "He just tried to stop it all because there’s so many things named after him."
When Goldwater died in May 1998, there was immediate public pressure to name a landmark for him. The historical society applied for the White Tank peak, but several other ideas were submitted. A leading contender was the mountain then known as Squaw Peak in Phoenix.
The State Board on Geographic and Historic Names put an end to all such talk by formally invoking a federal rule that natural landmarks shouldn’t be named for prominent people until five years after their deaths.
The suggestion to claim Squaw Peak for Goldwater was raised informally again last year. Instead, the historic names board followed the urging of Gov. Janet Napolitano to waive the five-year rule and rename that mountain for Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi who is believed to be the first American Indian woman killed in combat while serving in the U.S. military.
So, the historical society made its request again in January for the White Tank location.
Some members of the Goldwater family have accepted the public desire for a natural memorial. In October 2003, son Michael Goldwater wrote a letter at the request of the historical society that says the proposal has the family’s blessing.
"I think the close proximity to Luke Air Force Base adds emphasis to it, and all of the other peaks in the Valley are taken," Michael Goldwater told the Tribune last week.
None of the individual peaks in the White Tank Mountains has been named, state officials said, and no formal opposition has emerged to the Goldwater Peak proposal.
But the state historical names board will take into account Barry Goldwater’s wishes, said board chairwoman Linda Strock.
If the state approves Goldwater Peak, the request will move on to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which must also sanction the name for inclusion on most maps.