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Fife Symington

Fife Symington
19th Governor of Arizona
In office
March 6, 1991 – September 5, 1997
Preceded by Rose Perica Mofford
Succeeded by Jane Dee Hull
Personal details
Born John Fife Symington III
(1945-08-12) August 12, 1945
New York City, New York, United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ann Olin Pritzlaff
Residence Phoenix, Arizona
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Businessman
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1967–1971
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Vietnam War

John Fife Symington III (born August 12, 1945) is an American businessman, who served as the 19th Governor of the U.S. state of Arizona from 1991 until his resignation in 1997.


  • Background 1
  • Governorship 2
    • First term (1991–1995) 2.1
    • Second term (1995–1997) 2.2
  • Post-governorship 3
    • UFO sighting 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Symington was born in New York City. He comes from a wealthy Maryland family; he is the son of Martha Howard (Frick), and a great-grandson of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, and his father J. Fife Symington Jr. (1910–2007) was United States ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago 1969–1971. His cousin, Stuart Symington, was a U.S. Senator from Missouri and father of James Wadsworth Symington, a U.S. Representative from that state. He is married to the former Ann Olin Pritzlaff, an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and an heiress of the Olin family. They have five children and four grandchildren.

He attended the prestigious Gilman School in Baltimore, then attended Harvard University, graduating in 1968 with a degree in Dutch art history and was a member of the Porcellian Club. He served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Maricopa County, Arizona. He remained in Arizona and became involved in real estate development, founding his own company, the Symington Company, in 1976.


First term (1991–1995)

Symington ran for governor of Arizona in 1990, taking 44% of the vote in the Republican primary in a field of four candidates. He ran against Democrat Terry Goddard, the former mayor of Phoenix, in the November general election. The presence of four write-in candidates resulted in Symington and Goddard being virtually tied, with Symington ahead by only 4,300 votes. Arizona had adopted runoff voting in general elections if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. This came after the controversial Evan Mecham had been elected governor in 1986 with only 40% of the vote. As a result, a runoff was held on February 26, 1991; which Symington won with 52% of the vote. (Arizona returned to plurality voting in 1992.)

Symington was sworn into office on March 6, 1991.[1] During his first term, the governor was the subject of an investigation over his involvement with Southwest Savings and Loan, a failed Phoenix thrift. He was later cleared, and won reelection handily in 1994.

Second term (1995–1997)

The Grand Canyon National Park was shut down for the first time ever in November 1995, because of the federal budget impasse. On November 17, Symington's response came very close to creating a national crisis.[2][3] Symington, citing the dire effects of the park's closure on tourism, stated that the "Grand Canyon must remain open, by force, if necessary." The Pentagon warned the head of the Arizona National Guard against the use of force and raised the possibility that, if necessary, the guard would be federalized and brought under the control of the White House. The governor decided to go ahead and, accompanied by the Speaker of the House, fifty unarmed National Guard troops, twenty-five state Park Department employees, and other people, traveled to the canyon. When Symington's group arrived, Symington beat on the park gates in front of the media.[4]

The United States Department of Interior later reopened the park under state supervision.[4] A federal agency reimbursed Arizona the $370,020 the state donated to keep the Grand Canyon National Park open during the government shutdowns.[5]

Later, Symington was indicted on 21 federal counts of extortion, making false financial statements, and bank fraud. He was convicted for seven counts of bank fraud on September 4, 1997. He was charged for defrauding his lenders as a commercial real estate developer, extorting a pension fund and perjuring himself in a bankruptcy hearing. As Arizona state law does not allow convicted felons to hold office, Symington resigned his office the next day.[6]

This conviction, however, was overturned in 1999 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Six days into jury deliberations, the trial judge had granted the government's motion to dismiss a juror because the other jurors complained she was refusing to deliberate with them, a serious breach of the juror's oath. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled 2–1 that there was a reasonable possibility that the juror had actually been removed because she was leaning toward acquittal, and the rest of the jury was frustrated at the prospect of a hung jury (in federal cases, verdicts must be unanimous). The appeals court held that the juror's dismissal violated Symington's right to a fair trial, since he was entitled to that juror's vote. Before the government could retry him, Symington was pardoned in January 2001 by President Clinton, terminating the federal government's seven-year battle with the former governor. Symington had once saved a young Bill Clinton from a rip current off of Cape Cod.[7]


After graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Scottsdale, Symington helped found the Arizona Culinary Institute, a professional cooking school that teaches the classic French method. Symington is a founding partner of The Symington Group, a venture capital and strategic business/political consulting firm.

On February 4, 2005, in an interview with the Arizona Republic, Symington expressed interest in running for governor in 2006 against Democrat Janet Napolitano, setting the state political landscape abuzz. However, three months later, on May 5, he withdrew his name from consideration, saying that he wanted to focus his energy on The Symington Group. In an interview with KPHO-TV in Phoenix, Symington said, "I've been thinking about it, doing a lot of soul searching, talking to a lot of friends. But for me, I've done that...I don't want to run for governor again."

In November 2006, Symington lost a bid to become the GOP Chair of his local legislative district. The defeat in this district, which also happens to be the home district of John McCain (whose support he had), was the first electoral defeat of Symington's career.

In April 2007, Symington was named chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.[8]

UFO sighting

In 2007, Fife said that he had witnessed one of the "crafts of unknown origin" during the 1997 Phoenix Lights event, but noted that he didn't go public with the information.[9][10][11][12]

In an interview with The Daily Courier in Prescott, Symington said:

I'm a pilot and I know just about every machine that flies. It was bigger than anything that I've ever seen. It remains a great mystery. Other people saw it, responsible people. I don't know why people would ridicule it.
— Fife Symington III, [13]
It was enormous and inexplicable. Who knows where it came from? A lot of people saw it, and I saw it too. It was dramatic. And it couldn't have been flares because it was too symmetrical. It had a geometric outline, a constant shape.
— Fife Symington III, [14]

However, when he was Governor in 1997, Symington promised he would look into the mass sighting, but then quickly ridiculed it at a press conference where he had his chief of staff dress up in an alien costume, telling reporters that they had found the culprit. He later stated that as a public official he felt a responsibility to avert public panic and therefore tried to introduce some levity into the situation.

On November 9, 2007, Symington appeared with a panel of guests discussing their UFO experiences on Larry King Live. A few days later, on November 12, Symington acted as moderator for a UFO press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Other speakers included U.S./foreign military witnesses/public officials involved in some major UFO cases, such as the 1980 Rendlesham Forest incident, 1990 Belgium UFO incident, and 1976 Tehran UFO incident, and heads of some official foreign government UFO investigations, such as Nick Pope in the U.K. and Claude Poher of France. They said the phenomenon was quite real, should be taken seriously, and urged that the U.S. reopen its public UFO investigation.[15]

Symington also appeared as a witness of the Phoenix Lights in an updated version of the 2002 UFO documentary

Political offices
Preceded by
Rose Perica Mofford
Governor of Arizona
March 6, 1991 – September 5, 1997
Succeeded by
Jane Dee Hull
  • special report on Fife SymingtonArizona Republic
  • biography of Fife SymingtonArizona Republic
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Pro-Symington website; tracks positive news coverage
  • Summary of the government's investigation
  • Scottsdale Culinary institute
  • Arizona Culinary institute
  • Hostetler, Darrin. "The GOP Menu," Phoenix New Times, September 5, 1990.
  • Serrill, Michael. "Bad Debts, Bad Judgments" in TIME, September 15, 1997.

External links

  1. ^ "Arizona Governor". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 7, 1991. 
  2. ^ Smith, Christopher (February 11, 1996). "White House was Ready to Federalize Arizona Guard Constitutional Crisis at the Canyon Canyon Conflict Created a Federal Crisis Canyon". The Salt Lake Tribune (A1).  "Governor Fife Symington did his best John Wayne, commanding a brigade of state troops to the canyon, leading a charge to rescue tourism."
  3. ^ "Governor's canyon take over attempt nearly triggers crisis".  
  4. ^ a b Berman, David R. (1998). Arizona politics & government: the quest for autonomy, democracy, and Development. U of Nebraska Press. p. 167.  
  5. ^ "Agency reimburses Arizona's donations to keep park open". Dallas News (Associated Press). February 23, 1996. 
  6. ^ Purdum, Todd S. (September 4, 1997). "Arizona Governor Convicted Of Fraud and Will Step Down". New York Times. 
  7. ^ Rudin, Ken January 26, 2001, I Beg Your Pardon Washington Post
  8. ^ "On the Beat 4-05-2007". Santa Barbara Independent. 2007-04-05. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  9. ^ """EXOPOLITICS: Politics, Government, and Law in the Universe: CAVEAT LECTOR: "FORMER ARIZONA GOVERNOR NOW ADMITS SEEING UFO. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 
  10. ^ Shanks, Jon (2007-03-18). "National Ledger – Former Arizona Gov. Admits UFO Sighting On Night of Phoenix Lights". Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  11. ^ Hammons, Steve (2007-03-18). "Former Arizona governor says he saw ‘Phoenix Lights’ UFO". American Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  12. ^ Cooper, Anderson (2007-03-21). " – Anderson Cooper 360° Blog". CNN. Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  13. ^ "Former Arizona Governor Comes Forward About UFO Sighting From 10 Years Ago". Fox News. 2007-03-24. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  14. ^ Kean, Leslie (2007-03-18). "Symington confirms he saw UFO 10 years ago". The Daily Courier. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  15. ^ transcript of press conference
  16. ^ Out Of The Blue : The definitive investigation of the UFO phenomenon, an award winning UFO documentary


See also


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