Brother Leo Corbett entered Chapter Eternal

Leo Corbet, former Arizona Senate president and longtime transplant advocate, dies at 83

Former Arizona Senate President Leo Corbet, who was kept alive by an artificial heart for 90 days while awaiting a transplant in 2001, has died.

"I'm a lawyer; people said I didn't have a heart to begin with," he joked at the time.

Corbet, 83, had been in declining health in recent months, said longtime friend Paul Muscenti, who had known Corbet since their college days at the University of Arizona.

Corbet was a 33-year-old attorney in 1970 when he upset an incumbent in his first attempt at politics and was elected to the Arizona Senate. During his freshman term, he worked alongside future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on reforms to Arizona's grand jury system.

Corbet, a Republican, eventually rose to become Arizona Senate president before stepping down in 1982 to make an unsuccessful run for governor against incumbent Democrat Bruce Babbitt.

He was reelected to his old north-central Phoenix seat in 1988 after the tumultuous impeachment of Gov. Evan Mecham, and served one more term before being ousted by a political unknown. With health issues mounting, he never returned to elective politics.

Corbet did use his political skills as an advocate for transplant recipients. During the heart of the Great Recession in 2009, the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer eliminated coverage for transplant recipients under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, the state's health insurance plan for the poor.

Corbet lobbied extensively to get coverage reinstated, according to Zoe Severyn, executive director of the Arizona Transplant Alliance, which advocates for transplant patients.

Corbet was an early member of the organization under its previous names of the New Heart Society and later the New Life Society, serving as a board member, president and tireless fundraiser, Severyn said.

Muscenti said he remembers calling Corbet every week when his friend was hospitalized at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, awaiting his transplant.

Corbet was one of the last patients to use one of the earliest artificial heart devices, which weighed 325 pounds. Later devices weighed less than four pounds.

"The man literally lived for 90 days without a heart in his chest," Muscenti said.

Corbet even had a nickname for his artificial heart.

"I'd call him up and he'd say, 'Would you like to speak to Old Blue?'" Muscenti recalled.

Muscenti said the two of became friends when they joined the Sigma Chi fraternity at UA, where Corbet graduated in 1958. Corbet later went to law school at UA and co-founded a small firm in Phoenix after he graduated.

He also worked in real estate and insurance after leaving politics. And though he was a lifelong Republican, Corbet made news in 2014 when he endorsed Democrat Fred DuVal over Republican Doug Ducey in that year's gubernatorial race.

Corbet is survived by his wife, Kathy, and three daughters.

Muscenti said services would be held after the New Year.

He was my best friend," Muscenti said. "I liken my friendship with him to the Bob Hope song, 'Thanks For the Memories' — You may have been a headache, but you never were a bore."

John D'Anna is a member of the Arizona Republic/ storytelling team. Reach him at, and follow him on Twitter @azgreenday. 

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