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Obituary

Ann-Eve Pedersen, journalist & education advocate, dead at 55

Ann-Eve Pedersen, a former reporter and editor for the Citizen and Star, vigorous education activist and historical preservation advocate, died unexpectedly Friday at her home. She was 55 years old.

Pedersen was described by family, friends and colleagues as wonderful, talented, passionate, fierce and kind. She broke news as a reporter and pushed journalists to dig deeper as an editor, paved the way for statewide education funding measures, worked to steward local history, and took on the powers that be even though she was the daughter of an established Tucson family.

"She was a natural leader because of the example she provided to others as to how a high-character person behaved," said her husband, Peter Eckerstrom.

Pedersen began her career as a receptionist for the Tucson Citizen, but was quickly made a reporter for the newspaper at age 22, Eckerstrom said. She covered courts — where the couple met when Eckerstrom, now a judge, was "a young public defender," he said.

What the Devil: Ann-Eve Pedersen's near-mythical leadership was the stuff of sagas

After moving to the Arizona Daily Star, "by age 32, she was the city editor" for the paper, he said. She left the Star in 1999. After the birth of son Lars, now 20, Pedersen returned to the newsroom as the managing editor for the Citizen. She again stepped back from the news business in 2003, when Eckerstrom was appointed to the bench, to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Beyond her professional achievements and community involvement, "the real joy in her life was raising our son Lars," he said. "She was his hero. She was an absolutely wonderful wife, and a very kind person." Pedersen and Eckerstrom were married for 29 years.

While it's a common note in obituaries about journalists to note at least a few rough edges, if not a thoroughly irascible nature, Pedersen's former colleagues at both papers not only had high praise for her skills as a reporter and editor, but nothing but positive words about her character.

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"Ann-Eve was fierce and kind. Tucson was her city, and she took offense professionally and personally if a public official was lazy, a liar, a cheat or just plain wrong. But she was also patient and gracious," said Bobbie Jo Buel, a former top Star editor. "Every newsroom has regular callers who are lonely and just want someone to talk to, and at the Star some even learned to ask for Ann-Eve by name. She treated them like neighbors. Ann-Eve didn't just listen, she truly heard what people said. It's a big reason the staff adored her, even though she was demanding."

"When she got to the Star, she started making sure that the city desk hit hard," said Sentinel columnist Blake Morlock, who worked for Pedersen at the Citizen. "They were all over Edith Campos' death. She practically turned the county government upside down to verify Linda McCartney died here. She turned a sleepy newsroom, stewing under the jackboot of the John Silva administration, and turbocharged it."

Morlock said she was an editor who set firm and demanding expectations, but who was always ready to pitch in and help a reporter dig through clipping files for background on a story.

At the Citizen, "she would use her connections throughout the community to get tips that were really rock-solid," he said.

As a reporter for the Citizen, Pedersen exposed Tucson police and courts working to cover up the arrest of an attorney in a vice sting operation in a city park and revealed another city cover-up of leaking fuel contaminating a South Side neighborhood. After moving to the Star in 1993, she dug into the tangled legal aftermath of the 1995 fire at Old Tucson, investigating along with reporter Chris Limberis, and the high-profile and bumbling federal prosecution of a supposed IRA terrorist plot hatched in Tucson, involving a Stinger missile, sniper rifles and explosive detonators that were to be transported on Greyhound buses.

"I'd bet that Ann-Eve set a newsroom record for double bylines," Buel said. "She liked to double-team bad actors — the quicker to dig deep and expose their wrongs. But she also truly loved to work with other reporters — it seemed to amp up her enthusiasm."

Pedersen "began at the Citizen as a clerk, but her talent for writing was apparent and she moved into a reporting position quickly.  She was a natural leader. She was decisive, smart, expressed her positions well, and had excellent news judgment. She went to the Star and returned to the Citizen for a short stint as a managing editor," said Jennifer Boice, who became the senior news editor at the paper after Pedersen left. "In that short time, she exerted her influence on the newsroom and the direction of coverage, working with many reporters individually to make their stories better."

"She was also kind in her treatment of others – both her colleagues and the people she dealt with in her reporting. She never forgot her (and their) humanity in doing her job," Boice said.

Mark Kimble, the opinion editor for the Citizen, said that when Pedersen began working there, "it was quickly apparent to everyone that she belonged on the news-gathering staff. She soon became a reporter covering several different areas even though she had no formal journalism background. She later was named a newsroom leader and was loved and respected by all her colleagues."

"Ann-Eve lived the values of great journalism: integrity, honesty, compassion and a commitment to public service," said Joe Salkowski, a former Star reporter. "Those same values drove her to defend public education and support causes that she believed to the bottom of her heart."

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"The depth of her caring was profound," Salkowski said. "Ann-Eve never adopted the detached cynicism typical of seasoned journalists or political professionals. She met the world open and unprotected, battled stubbornly against its injustices and never stopped working for a better, kinder and more equitable world."

She had a "stubborn determination to see everything through," he said. "She was a great investigative reporter, and a challenging editor because she often had a vision for your story that was hard to live up to. She never asked for anything more than she was willing to do herself, but that was a pretty high bar."

Another former Star reporter, Rhonda Bodfield, described Pedersen as "an incredible force."

"Working in a newsroom is a team sport. You have to rely on driven and dedicated professionals to do the work every day of serving democracy," she said. "As a newsroom leader, Ann-Eve was funny and kind, with an unforgettable musical laugh and a deep love for Tucson. And there was never any doubt that she was an intellectual force and a serious journalist."

"She was unflinching in her support of the 1st Amendment and in her demand for rigorous, purposeful reporting that held the powerful to account for their decisions," Bodfield said. "She pushed us to find the truth on topics as varied as child abuse, medical malpractice, firearms laws and campaign finance — and supported us with our legal budget when our access to information was blocked. She demanded integrity, she held public trust dear, and she motivated us to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. Later, she became a fierce advocate for education, with her work rooted in the same principles that motivated her as a journalist. As a professional mentor and a role model to many, she will be greatly missed."

"The intelligence, passion and dedication with which Ann-Eve approached journalism were reflections of how she approached everything in her life — motherhood and family, friends and community," said Michael Chihak, a former editor and publisher of the Citizen. "That we won't see her smile and her fierceness again is so sad for all of us."

"She was a wonderful and helpful editor to work with and in her life after newspapering did so much for this community," said C.T. Revere, a former Citizen journalist. "My heart goes out to Peter and Lars and her family."

"In her post-newspaper life, Ann-Eve was a persistent voice for increased funding for education and had a life-long love for the history and culture of Tucson," Mark Kimble said. "She was brilliant intellectually as a community and state leader on a number of issues. I would not have been surprised if she had considered entering politics."

While she was never a candidate herself, Pedersen was a political force to be reckoned with in the years after she left the newsroom, co-founding the Arizona Education Network and championing a series of ballot propositions to bolster school funding across the state.

Jen Darland, a co-founder of the group, said "there's not enough I can say about the woman who was Ann-Eve. She was ahead of her time... and yet so rooted in the history of this state" in pushing the measures that coalesced in the "Red for Ed" movement in Arizona.

"No one was more passionate, more earnest and forthright. She was a mom; she wasn't some 'special interest group,'" Darland said. "She always looked you in the eye; it was magic. She never brushed you aside."

"I'm lucky to have been her sidekick," Darland said.

Sparked by school budget cuts in 2008, the two gathered together "a weird organic thing; a bunch of pissed-off parents" who advocated for increasing support for education.

Pedersen and Darland led the Arizona Education Network's work to have Gov. Jan Brewer call for Prop. 100 to be referred for a 2010 special election, which resulted in 64 percent of voters approving a temporary one-cent sales tax for schools.

"The day after it passed, I said 'Oh, thank God it's over,'" Darland said. "But Ann-Eve said, 'Jen, we're not done, not by a long shot.'"

In 2012, Pedersen helped lead the election push for a permanent education tax, Prop. 204. Pedersen debated Doug Ducey, then the state treasurer, on television twice over the citizen proposition. But despite their winning a state Supreme Court case when Secretary of State Ken Bennett attempted to reject the initiative petitions, the measure fell short at the polls.

Her education advocacy continued during the Red for Ed campaign to increase school funding in the state budget, and with 2020's successful passage of Prop. 208, which was crafted to raise taxes on Arizona's highest-income residents to pay for education. That measure would be undermined by "flat tax" structural changes to Arizona's state revenue system proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

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Darland described an incident in which the two were visiting Washington, D.C., as part of a "Women for Obama" event. While President Barack Obama was working a rope line, Pedersen gave Darland a small push from behind.

"Get up there," she said to Darland, who took a step forward to shake the president's hand.

"That was Ann-Eve. Always standing behind you, shoving you into the moment," Darland said.

Pedersen also headed up the anti-bullying task force for the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, the nonprofit set up by Ron Barber in the wake of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting.

Pedersen's family has deep roots in Tucson, and her appreciation for Tucson's past was demonstrated in her work for the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation, which she became the executive director of in 2017.

Her father, Lars Pedersen, was a chief criminal deputy county attorney, heading the bribery solicitation case against Sheriff Waldon Burr, and later running for the post of top county prosecutor. He was also a chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party. Her great-grandfather, Carl Nielsen, was an owner of local mining companies in the 1890s, including the firms operating the Silver Bell and Old Boot mines.

Her predecessor at the foundation, Dianne Bret Harte, who ran the organization for 19 years, said Pedersen "took the Southwestern Foundation up many notches in the realm of local philanthropy."

"As a former journalist she was relentless in getting everything right, whether she was working with her board of trustees or helping a nonprofit craft a fundable grant proposal," she said. Pedersen "was inordinately smart, very funny, a deeply rooted Arizonan, and probably one of the few people I’ve known to whom I can apply the word 'good.' Ann-Eve was widely respected and beloved and she leaves not only giant footprints to fill but a big hole in my heart."

Pederson was a graduate of Salpointe High School, and earned a degree in international relations from Brown University. She attended Howell Elementary and Mansfield Junior High, her husband said.

"People wanted to be like her, to emulate her," Eckerstrom said. "Almost anything she got in the middle of, she was suddenly in charge of. If there were 25 people gathered in a room, she'd be the one to organize things."

While much of her life was devoted to public pursuits — in journalism and civic affairs — Eckerstrom noted that she was caring and giving privately, as well.

He told a story of the her driving down a Tucson street in mid-winter and seeing "an elderly woman on a park bench. It was freezing outside."

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Pedersen stopped and asked if the woman was alright. "The woman, who was homeless, said she was waiting for a bus, and that she planned to ride to stay out of the cold that night," he said.

"Most people might say 'OK' to that," Eckerstrom said. "But not Ann-Eve."

"She took her home, and we put her up in our guest house. Two weeks later, Ann-Eve had helped her straighten out her Social Security checks and found her subsidized housing," Eckerstrom said.

Ann-Eve Pedersen died May 28 from an unexpected complication of an illness. She is survived by her husband, Peter Eckerstrom, chief judge for Division Two of the Arizona Court of Appeals, and son Lars. She is also survived by three brothers — Hans, Christian and Alexander Pedersen — and "beloved nieces and nephews" Aven and Dash Pedersen and Kayla and Kyle Eckerstrom.

She was preceded in death by her father, Lars Pedersen, who died in 2006, and mother Gwynne Barthels Pedersen and infant brother Eric, who died in a car crash July 4, 1968.

A public memorial service for Ann-Eve Pedersen will be held Saturday, June 12 at 10 a.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

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Memorial service

A public memorial service for Ann-Eve Pedersen will be held Saturday, June 12 at 10 a.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.