Fife Symington III

Infobox Governor

name = John Fife Symington III
order = 23rd
office = Governor of Arizona
term_start = 1991
term_end = 1997
lieutenant =
predecessor = Rose Perica Mofford
successor = Jane Dee Hull
birth_date = birth date and age|1945|8|12
birth_place = New York City, New York, United States
death_date =
death_place =
party = Republican
spouse = Ann Olin Pritzlaff
profession =
religion =

John Fife Symington III (born August 12, 1945 in New York City) was the Republican governor of the U.S. state of Arizona from 1991 until his resignation in 1997.


Symington comes from a distinguished Maryland family; he is 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.

He was charged in a 1996 indictment; 1997 superseding indictment for false statements to federally insured financial institutions, wire fraud, attempted extortion and false statements in bankruptcy proceeding, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1014, 1343, 1951, 152, 2(a) and 2(b)


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 43% 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.)

During his first term, Symington was the subject of an investigation over his involvement with Southwest Savings and Loan, a failed Phoenix thrift. He was later cleared, and was handilly reelected in 1994.

Later, he was indicted on charges of extortion and making false financial statements, and of bank fraud. He was convicted of bank fraud in 1997. The Arizona state constitution does not allow convicted felons to hold office, so Symington was forced to resign.

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 she was leaning toward acquittal and the other jurors complained that she was keeping them from reaching a unanimous verdict. The appeals court ruled that the dismissal violated Symington's right to a fair trial.

He was subsequently pardoned by President Clinton near the end of his presidency in January 2001. The pardon terminated the federal government's seven year battle with the former governor. Interesting to note Fife once rescued Bill Clinton from a potential drowning. During their college years (Symington at Harvard and Clinton at Georgetown), Clinton got caught in a strong tide and Symington rescued Clinton from a near drowning. []


After leaving office, Symington undertook some culinary pursuits. After graduating from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute/Cordon Bleu, he 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 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. [cite web |url= |title=EXOPOLITICS: Politics, Government, and Law in the Universe: CAVEAT LECTOR: "FORMER ARIZONA GOVERNOR NOW ADMITS SEEING UFO" |accessdate=2007-04-06 |format= |work=] [cite news |first=Jon |last=Shanks |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=National Ledger - Former Arizona Gov. Admits UFO Sighting On Night of Phoenix Lights |url= |work= |publisher= |date=2007-03-18 |accessdate=2007-03-19] [cite news |first=Steve|last=Hammons |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Former Arizona governor says he saw ‘Phoenix Lights’ UFO |url= |work= |publisher=American Chronicle |date=2007-03-18 |accessdate=2007-03-19] [cite news|last=Cooper|first=Anderson|coauthors= | - Anderson Cooper 360° Blog |work= |pages= |language= |publisher=CNN |date =2007-03-21|url=

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

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. His explanation today is that as a public official he felt a responsibility to avoid 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. [ [ transcript of press conference] ]

Symington also appeared as a witness of the Phoenix Lights in an updated version of the 2002 UFO documentary "Out of the Blue" by filmmaker James Fox. Fox helped organize the witness panels for both the Larry King show and followup National Press Club event. [ [ Out Of The Blue : The definitive investigation of the UFO phenomenon, an award winning UFO documentary ] ]

ee also

*List of Governors of Arizona
*Phoenix Lights


*Hostetler, Darrin. "The GOP Menu," "Phoenix New Times", September 5, 1990.
*Serrill, Michael. "Bad Debts, Bad Judgments" in "TIME", September 15, 1997.

External links

* [ "Arizona Republic" special report on Fife Symington]
* [ "Arizona Republic" biography of Fife Symington]
* [ Pro-Symington website; tracks positive news coverage]
* [ Summary of the government's investigation]
* [ Scottsdale Culinary institute]
* [ Arizona Culinary institute]

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