Arizona Basketball

Odiemae Elliott, 77, mother of Arizona Wildcats legend, influential member of Tucson community



Picture from a Facebook post by Odiemae Elliott's daughter-in-law (Sean's wife) Claudia Zapata

Picture from a Facebook post by Odiemae Elliott’s daughter-in-law (Sean’s wife) Claudia Zapata

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The two most visible women — Bobbi Olson and Odiemae Elliott — in the Arizona Wildcats’ basketball family since Lute Olson arrived in Tucson in 1983 have now passed.

Bobbi Olson, Lute’s wife of 47 years, and Elliott, mother of the Arizona Wildcats’ best basketball player in school history, Sean Elliott, both succumbed to cancer.

Odiemae died Monday at the age of 77. Bobbi was 65 when she passed away on Jan. 1, 2001.

The common bond between Odiemae and Bobbi: Their graciousness and positive influence of those around them, including family members and strangers in Tucson. They became popular in the city because of their vision of strength and their compassion, traits that are indelible in the minds of those who have followed the most popular entity in Tucson — Arizona basketball — over the last 30 years.


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“She was kind and sweet to everybody,” Sean Elliott told Arizona Daily Star sports editor Ryan Finley about his mother.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who said my mom was ever cross with them — or rude, for that matter. She was compassionate.”

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The strength that Bobbi and Odiemae exhibited included their unwavering support of Lute and Sean, respectively.

Bobbi realized the rigors of major-college coaching for Lute. She understood the pressure her husband faced. She refrained from adding to that. Instead, she was a balancing force for Lute.

“The best thing she does is soften up the mean, old man,” Lute told former Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson shortly before Bobbi’s passing.

Bobbi tried to extend her soothing influence to us reporters. I recall after No. 2 Arizona was upset by USC at Los Angeles in 1998, Bobbi came up to us outside the locker room before the post-game interviews and gave us a hug. It was her way of telling us: “Go easy on them. They’re the defending national champions. They’re trying.”


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It was enough to put a lump in your throat.

Odiemae Elliott had a profound influence on Tucsonans with her history as a critical-care nurse at the VA hospital. Aside from raising Sean and her other two sons (Noel and Bobby), Odiemae tried to take care of the community.

Lute and Bobbi Olson embracing after Arizona won the national title in 1997 (YouTube video capture)

Lute and Bobbi Olson embracing after Arizona won the national title in 1997 (YouTube video capture)

Active with charity work, Odiemae taught her sons the value of helping others in need. At the behest of his mother, Sean started to be involved with good works projects when he attended Cholla High School.

“That was the way he was brought up,” Odiemae told the Tucson Citizen in 1999, when Sean was in need of a kidney transplant. “At 14, he was working in a day-care center. At 15, he was volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital. I always felt you had to give back to the community, that it is your obligation to give, and Sean does that.

“My other boys, they are involved, they give, too, but Sean has a lot more that he is able to give, so he does.”

Odiemae became nationally known during Sean’s kidney ordeal. Her resolve provided a vision of hope for Sean. Noel provided the ultimate gift, one of his kidneys, to help save his brother’s life and career. No greater sense of family there. At the center of it all was Odiemae.

In a 2001 Fox Sports Network documentary titled “Beyond the Glory”, she said in an interview: “I’m humbled that I could raise men who had this much courage, strength and this much faith. That Noel would put his life on the line for his brother.”

Life was the ultimate gift stemming from that courage, strength, and faith. What Odiemae meant to her sons and the Tucson community will live on with a message of hope and helping those in need. Life will go on. Support will strengthen lives, for those giving and receiving.

Bobbi and Odiemae gave plenty. Tucsonans are thankful for what they received.

The Elliott family will hold a small, private service in the near future, Sean Elliott told Finley. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. Odiemae Elliott is survived by two sisters, Rosa Lucas and Vera Lucas Pied, her sons and six grandchildren. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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