Who was Billy Joe Varney?


Billy Joe Varney (1930-2010) wore many hats during his 30 year career at the University of Arizona, including that of acting athletic director, vice president for business affairs and director of the Student Union.

"Billy Joe Varney had a tremendous impact on the University. We only need to look at our Student Union to see the kind of hard work and dedication he showed throughout his years at the UA," said President Robert N. Shelton.

He headed up the Student Union from 1958-1985, was later instrumental in fundraising for the new union and UA Bookstore facilities, spearheading a group of retired administrators to help raise money and provide input for the project, said Melissa Vito, vice president for. Student Affairs.

Vito, a friend and colleague of Varney's, said he was a part of a generation of campus leaders that saw the UA "grow from a hometown university to an internationally engaged Research 1 university."

A member of the UA Hall of Fame, Varney had a reputation for regularly going above and beyond the call of duty for the University.

"The Billy Joe Varney excellence award was an enormous honor for him and it recognized his quality of always going the extra mile for the University and always making others feel special," Vito said.

He was also known as a dedicated family man.

"He was a big, booming kind of guy, who at the end of the day was really proudest of his family," Vito said. "He and his wife used to play tennis at Catalina High School every weekend well into their 70s. His annual Christmas letter was always funny “he always focused on his family, his travels with the Rotary and the University."

For over 50 years he was highly involved in community affairs serving on numerous boards and committees in the Tucson Community. Amongst those were: President of the Tucson Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Board of Directors at Tucson Airport Authority, Board Member of the Metro Y.M.C.A., chaired the 1995 Copper Bowl, and a member on the Pima Council on Aging. He was also an Honorary Bobcat, Honorary Phi Gamma Delta, Honorary Sigma Chi, and was very involved with Catalina United Methodist Church. He was an outstanding, tenacious, loving and compassionate man who instilled ambition and leadership skills in others. He had a quick wit and the ability to make friends with everyone. It seemed like everywhere he went, people were drawn to his charismatic energy and wanted to be part of his philanthropic endeavors.

The Billy Joe Varney Award for Excellence is an award at the University of Arizona that is presented annually to one employee who has at least 15 years of employment at the University, and who merits special recognition for a career of dedicated service to the University, its employees, and the community.