TUCSON — At some point, there will be a toast of champagne to a great life, a bunch of fond memories will be mentioned and, of course, some tears will be shed.
Odiemae Elliott, mother of former University of Arizona great Sean Elliott, died Monday after several years of failing health. She was 77.
Sean Elliott said his mom had been ill for more than six years, eventually being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Sean said his mom’s last couple of years "have been hard."
"She just said she wanted us to celebrate her life and have some champagne," Sean said. "So that’s what we’re going to do."
Elliott said he was "devastated but relieved that she’s not in pain anymore."
Odiemae graduated from the University of Arizona College of Nursing in 1977 and was a critical care nurse at Tucson VA Hospital.
"I really am proud of her life and accomplishments," Sean said in a telephone interview. "There’s been an outpouring of support from so many people. That’s what she was all about. She had a bunch of friends from all kinds of life . . . just all kinds of people. And all are coming out and saying what a wonderful lady she was. And that’s who she was."
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne was among those expressing his sympathy. "We were saddened to learn of Odiemae Elliott’s passing,” he said in a statement released by the athletic department. "On behalf of Arizona Athletics, I want to extend our deepest condolences to Sean and all of Odiemae’s family and friends."
Odiemae was a constant figure at her son’s games both at Cholla High and later at Arizona, where Sean became the school’s all-time leading scorer and undeniably its best player.
Elliott said as condolences pour in from all over he continues to hear all the great stories and people she impacted. She raised her sons — Sean, Noel and Bobby — as a single mother.
"I have people telling me they really enjoyed her company and she was great," Elliott said. "I could take her anywhere. ‘Pop’ (San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) called and said, ‘what a great lady.’ And he didn’t know her as well as people in Tucson did. I’m getting that from everybody."
In an interview this spring, former Arizona coach Lute Olson said "Odiemae was a strong lady" and instrumental in keeping Elliott home for school.
"There was no question as far as Odiemae was concerned he was coming here, and if Odiemae said something, you knew it was going to happen."
In the mid-to-late 1980s, Odiemae was one of the more recognizable people in Tucson, as her son helped lead the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 1988 and a deep run in 1989.
"She never put it out there either," he said. "When people would come up to her and say, ‘hey, your Sean’s mom,’ she’d be happy. She’d never be (full of herself). I’ve seen other moms act that way, but my mom was never like that."
But there was little doubt, he said, that Odiemae "was my biggest fan. She thought I was the greatest player to ever walk the earth." (He laughed). "When I retired, I’d hear her tell people stuff and I’d tell her, ‘Mom, that was Michael Jordan.’ I was happy that she was proud of me and that I had enhanced her life. She was proud of what I did."
His fondest memory?
"There are just too many," he said, "from my childhood to my adulthood … just so many."