Randall Presley, the first developer in Ahwatukee Foothills, passed away of complications arising from pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif., on April 12. Presley will be remembered as a smart developer and a gentleman.
Presley was the founder of Presley Development Co., which later merged with William Lyon Homes. It was Presley who first envisioned a community in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“Randall Presley was one of the great developers of our time, and of the many places in which he chose to invest, we were lucky that Ahwatukee was one of them,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a statement. “I represented Ahwatukee as a city councilman and now as mayor. Ahwatukee always has been a special place in Phoenix, and as it continued to grow and develop thanks to Mr. Presley, it became one of the strongest neighborhoods of civic engagement in our city. I’m grateful for that.”
Presley’s decision to build in Ahwatukee was unheard of at the time but his wife of 52 years, Cecilia, says she never questioned his thinking.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Cecilia said. “I never questioned for one moment anything he did in the building industry. He had a sixth sense about where to go and what to build.”
Presley’s sixth sense paid off in Ahwatukee. According to “America’s Images of Phoenix’s Ahwatukee Foothills” by resident Marty Gibson, Presley recognized the beauty of the mountains and the possibility for easy freeway access. Even though the land was considered a no man’s land by local farmers Presley acquired it in 1970 and opened 17 model homes in Ahwatukee in 1973.
“He had the vision to take Ahwatukee from a desert outland to a great community,” said Clay Schad, founder of the Ahwatukee Foothills News. “He was definitely a visionary man.”
Presley Development Co. paved the way for other master-planned communities to move to the Foothills. It wasn’t his only development in Arizona, but it was his largest.
Ahwatukee resident Pete Meier was an employee of Presley’s in the ’70s. He says he can remember when Presley would conduct his monthly visits from Newport Beach, Calif., to check on his developments. Streets were always swept and the employees always did their best to make everything look sharp, Meier said.
“I can’t say anything bad about him,” Meier continued. “If he was mad at you or you did something wrong or didn’t do it on time the worst words he would use were, ‘I’m very disappointed in you.’ He wasn’t one to rant or rave or anything like that. He was an excellent person to work for. He was a fine gentleman of the old school.”
Presley passed away at the age of 93, leaving behind his wife Cecilia, two sons, one daughter, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“My prayers go to his family,” said Ahwatukee resident and City Councilman Sal DiCiccio. “He created Ahwatukee. We’re living the dream because of it.”
Gibson has compiled histories of Ahwatukee in its early days and spoke with Presley about his contribution.
“I was privileged to know Randall Presley during the last seven years of his life,” Gibson said. “He laughed about being ‘semi-retired’ as he pursued oil and gas exploration into his 90s from his Newport Beach, Calif., home base. Presley’s tremendous life and business success were characterized by an understated soft-spoken confidence, with people unfailingly using words like ‘gracious’, ‘humble’ and ‘classy’ to describe the man. During the early days of Ahwatukee’s development he monitored progress with on-site visits a few days each month, and unfailingly streets would be swept, cars washed and salty language toned down in deference to Presley’s regal presence. There was no doubt about who was in charge. And I, like many folks who knew Randall Presley, had little doubt that I was in the presence of greatness.”
For those who know him best, his family, Presley will be remembered as an excellent athlete, a smart businessman and, above all, a gentleman.
“If I had to describe Randall in one word it would be ‘gentleman,’” Cecilia said. “He never said a bad word about anybody. He was one of the most upstanding, outstanding businessmen. He was honest, gave good pay and was just a gentleman. That’s what all his friends would say.”
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