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Have You Met?

Have You Met Tom Ambrose? Because Tom Ambrose’s vocation is Phoenix Suns Charities, he has a unique perspective on the state of nonprofits in the Valley of the Sun. “People in this part of the country are extraordinarily generous and supportive of nonprofits! Some of the long-standing charitable events in the area such as the Heart Ball or Celebrity Fight Night can raise two million dollars in one evening! I believe our Suns & Stars event for Suns Charities is on the rise, recently netting over one million dollars in one night. I am very proud that Phoenix Suns Charities is now well-established as a significant philanthropic contributor when helping youth and families in the community.” Phoenix Suns Charities was incorporated in 1989 as the vision of Suns’ Chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo. As Colangelo led a group to purchase the team in 1987, he also began to assemble a board of community leaders who would help form and operate a team foundation. This philanthropic arm of the Suns continues to grow, and today distributes more than three-quarters of a million dollars annually to more than 80 local charities. Since its inception, Phoenix Suns Charities has donated more than $8 million to deserving Arizona organizations. Tom Ambrose has been with the Phoenix Suns basketball franchise for more than 34 years. This personable and caring executive remarks “I’ve worked with so many ‘greats’ in the organization over the years: Jerry Colangelo, Dick Van Arsdale, Al McCoy and my all-time hero, former Suns coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons. Cotton was a remarkable combination of leader, motivator, teacher, mentor and communicator. He stood by his principles, had a great wit, a ready laugh and enjoyed every moment of every day. He was unique!” Although Tom grew up in New York State, he graduated from Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. “I was an English major in college, and I’m still always on the lookout for a good read! One of my favorite authors is Peter Hopkirk. He offers a fascinating historical perspective on Afghanistan and the Middle East in his book The Great Game.” It was at Notre Dame that Tom met his future wife, Alice. “Alice was from Arizona, and after I graduated in 1970, I moved to Tucson. In late 1971 I moved to Phoenix and worked for the Arizona Republic newspaper. It was there that I met Bill Shover, head of Public Relations for the newspaper, and one of the top PR men in the state. Bill was instrumental in my joining the Suns organization in 1973. For sixteen years I worked as the Suns PR director, but then I got more involved with the community relations side of the franchise beginning in 1987. When Suns Charities was established in 1989, I became the first executive director.” Since public image is important to all organizations, PR professionals keep the public aware of the organization's accomplishments and also inform management of public attitudes. PR develops and maintains two-way communication between an organization and the public. In the early 80’s, Tom and other public relations directors of the NBA formed a professional organization, the NBA Public Relations Directors’ Association. Tom was elected as its first President. “Our goal and intent was to adopt a code of ethical standards by which we would conduct ourselves as representatives of the NBA. A few years ago, the NBA PR directors presented me with a lifetime achievement award. Being honored by my peers in the league was a tremendous honor!” During his private time, one of the joys in Tom’s life is piloting small aircraft. “I started flying at age 42, and it has continued to be one of my passions! Flight training is completely different from my job, so it offers me a different perspective and new challenges. I fly out of Scottsdale Airport, and over the years, in addition to my private pilot rating, I have earned IFR, and multi-engine ratings. Recently, I have been checked out in the Diamond Star DA-40, learning its computer-based ‘glass cockpit,’ the new standard in avionics for general aviation.” Returning to the subject of nonprofits, Tom Ambrose emphasizes, “What is truly great about the Valley area is that a person who is willing to work can become involved right away. If a person wants to help they will be handed the proverbial shovel and will be put to work. There’s very little hierarchy or bureaucracy to fight through. “I love the fact that so many of our cultural institutions in the area were brought about by grass roots efforts. Individuals saw needs for a zoo, a museum of Native American culture, a children’s museum and other public works, and then set about to accomplish them. I really admire how all these things have come about through the spark of individual initiative!” What are your volunteer activities? Since my work with Phoenix Suns Charities includes involvement with so many community organizations, the line is often blurred between vocation and volunteerism but some of the organizations with which I am most active include: the Phoenix Zoo, Partnership for a Drug Free America, the Men’s Anti-Violence Network (M.A.N.) and the new Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Which social event is your favorite? I'm a little biased but I like Suns & Stars, the major fundraiser for Phoenix Suns Charities. Following that would be the Humane Society's Compassion with Fashion. Favorite Restaurant? That's such a difficult question because we've enjoyed so many wonderful restaurant experiences all over the world. Let's just say our "favorite restaurant" is anywhere we go that has great food, great wine, friendly service and where we can enjoy the company of good friends. We'll find a new "favorite" place just about every weekend, wherever we are. Who is your hero and why? I've been fortunate to have so many great mentors and role models throughout my life. Early on it was my dad and many wonderful teachers and coaches. Later on in life it was Bill Shover with Phoenix Newspapers, Jerry Colangelo and Dick Van Arsdale with the Suns. But the one guy who will always stand out as a hero to me is Cotton Fitzsimmons. Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Probably Frank Abagnale, Jr. who was the Inspiration for the movie, Catch Me If You Can. Ironically, we actually attended the same high school together in 1962-63, but I didn't meet him until he spoke at a function in Phoenix a few years after the movie was released. A con man who went straight, he led an absolutely amazing life, in fact, he probably led ten different and equally amazing lives. If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Frank Abagnale was lucky enough to have Leonardo DiCaprio play him in the movie. I'd love for Harrison Ford to play me in "my" movie, but Alan Alda would be a close second and wouldn't require nearly as much plastic surgery. What gives a woman/man style? The confidence to just be yourself. Do you have any Pets? I have two male dogs. Both are Humane Society graduates. One is a 95-pound yellow lab named "Riley," as in "living the life of" The other guy is a 70-pound Chow/Samoyed mix named "Kodi." They're both good boys and my "puppies." When you move, what will your home tell its next owner, about you? It will ask the question: "You don't shed, do you?" What was your first job? My first job was walking dogs around the neighborhood for 25 cents per walk. The downside was that sometimes the dogs didn't want to go or pay. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I would say it is my inability to say "no" which leads to an overextended schedule and consistently running late. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Promising to do something and then not delivering. What is your greatest indulgence? Flying small planes. What is the greatest gift you have ever given and received? Hands down, that would be the birth of my daughter Casey. I remember every moment and each detail like it happened yesterday. What or who is the greatest love of your life? I met my wife Alice in 1968 while at Notre Dame. Raised in Phoenix, she attended St. Mary's College. We bonded instantly and married in 1971. Now, almost 40 years later, we are still life partners and best friends. Meeting Alice and moving to Arizona were the two best things I've ever done. What is your current state of mind? It is nothing but positive. To borrow a phrase from my hero Cotton Fitzsimmons, "you cannot make me have a bad day!" What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? A few years ago, the NBA PR directors presented me with a lifetime achievement award. Being honored by my peers in the league was a tremendous honor. The fact that it was not presented posthumously was also very special. But on a personal level, I am most proud of the success of my daughter, who has a successful career in addition to being a loving mom to my grandson. The fact that she has succeeded on her own initiative, with absolutely no help from me, is a crowning achievement for this parent. What is your most treasured possession? Friendships and family. What is the quality you most like in people? The ability to laugh freely and often, a great sense of humor. Favorite books / Writers? Some of my all-time favorite reads include: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The River God and The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith, The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk, Flyboys and Flag of Our Fathers by Frank Bradley. What is the best advice you have ever received? Bill Shover had a sign on his desk that read: The amount of good that can be accomplished can't be measured when nobody cares who gets the credit. What words describe you best? I'd say passionate, steady, caring, and a loyal friend, but at the same time selectively kooky. What words would you like others to use to describe you? Trustworthy and selfless, he commands attention without demanding attention. He's a good listener and an entertaining storyteller.