George Rosenberg may have grown up in New York, but when he came to Tucson in the 1940s, he adopted the Old Pueblo as his home and remained here for the rest of his days.
Rosenberg, who died last Tuesday, Aug. 11, at his home just a few months after his 99th birthday, left behind his wife, Barbara Rosenberg; two sons and three daughters; 10 grandkids; and a great grandchild.
As a dad, Rosenberg had a home "that was full of teenagers, friends, and interesting adults," remembers his daughter, Debby Kennedy. It didn't matter whether he was talking to a congressman or one of her 10-year-old playmates. "He cared equally about our opinions and our interests," Kennedy remembers.
Outside the home, he was a whirlwind in the community. He was a newspaperman. He worked to expand hospitals and healthcare programs for the poor. He helped develop St. Gregory's School. He was a tireless advocate for the arts, providing a vital boost for the Arizona Theatre Company, the Tucson Symphony, the Poetry Center and other ventures. He was named Man of the Year in 1967 and won the a Governor's Art Award in 1990.
John Schaefer, the former UA president, remembers that his longtime friend had "a tremendous variety of interests. He loved Tucson. He always got in there determined to make a difference, and a difference he did make. He was a wonderful human being, and did so much for this community and there won't be another one like him for a long time."
Rosenberg came to Tucson with the U.S. Army Air Corps after serving in WWII. He decided to settle here and started a career in the newspaper biz. He walked into his first job almost by accident. As he later explained to an interviewer, he thought he might try his hand as a reporter. He visited the Arizona Daily Star newsroom just in time to see the then-publisher loudly chew out the managing editor and concluded: "It doesn't look like very much fun to work in this newsroom." So he popped into the newsroom of the now-shuttered Tucson Citizen, then still locally owned and influential. A reporter had just been fired, so they gave him a job that would eventually lead to him becoming editor of the paper. "This is how you get work in Tucson," he later said about his two decades in the news business.
Tony Tselentis, who worked with Rosenberg at the Citizen, remembers that he was "a very good editor. The staff all respected him and liked him."
Dianne Bret Hart was one of the first women in the Citizen newsroom. She remembers that Rosenberg "was simply terrific. He was such a help to me. His impact on me was tremendous because he had such a wide intellect. Anytime I needed to know anything at all—anything!—I'd call George. Before I had Google, you know. He was a George-ipedia, is what he was."
Rosenberg left the paper in 1967 and got engaged in the healthcare field. He served on the board of Tucson Medical Center and helped guide its growth and then became involved in developing other wider healthcare programs, including early models of health-maintenance organizations that were designed to help poor Arizonans get health care.
"There were a lot of little projects that came out of our program for the poor and other people who didn't have resources," says Donna Kruse, who worked with Rosenberg at the Hospital Planning Council.
And then there were his contributions to the arts. He led fundraising efforts that rescued the Arizona Theatre Company, aided the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and built the current home of the UA Poetry Center.
Kerstin Miller, who heads up the UA Humanities Seminar Program, says that Rosenberg played a key role in developing the program, which puts university professors in front of classrooms full of students—mostly retirees—who want to learn about arts, science, history and other subjects. Roughly 1,500 people a year sign up for the 23 classes, which often fill on the first day of registration. It's come a long way from its founding in 1984, which it offered just eight classes, and a lot of that growth wouldn't have been possible without Rosenberg's support. The program, Miller says, "is very indebted to his drive and his energy."
She remembers that Rosenberg had "a wicked sense of humor. He was really, really funny. He was so sweet. He was very modest and he was very, very caring."
Rosenberg served on the board overseeing Humanities Seminar for more than two decades and didn't step down until he was in his 90s. He designed brochures, managed the budget and found the program a permanent home at the UA Poetry Center. He often sat in on the classes.
"He always wanted to grow," Miller says. "He took more than 50 classes in the last 25 years of his life. He wanted to keep learning."
What drove Rosenberg to be so engaged in the community? His grandson, Noah Pollock, says that his grandfather came from the cultured environment of New York City and he wanted to create the same sort of opportunities for Tucsonans.
"He grew up with a lot of East Coast institutions around him," Pollock says. "Once he made Tucson his home, he looked around and realized that if you wanted a symphony, if you wanted a professional theater company, if you wanted a Phillips Exeter Academy down the street, you had to create them. And it might sound sort of selfish, but out of that comes community building so that the city can become more than it was.
Rosenberg set a high standard.
"I'm not sure that anybody can be the type of person he was in this day and age," Pollock says. "I don't think there are the same opportunities for civic development. Tucson was a small town that turned into a big town right under this nose. But I think it would hurt nobody to aspire to be him and be like him. And I don't there's any negative to trying my damnedest to be the man that he was.".