Joe Arpaio: I Want To Honor My Wife for Being a Great Partner in (Fighting) Crime


My wife, Ava, and I are celebrating our 61st wedding anniversary Saturday, and I just want to honor her and really all spouses of those who have served in law enforcement.

We have had quite a ride that took us from our first meeting on a blind date in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, to marrying in Chicago, to moving our young family to Turkey and later Mexico, and ultimately landing in Arizona, which we have called home since 1978.

As the old song goes, she has been the “wind beneath my wings” through it all.

It’s been a test few people pass, but I got off easy; I got the very best when I married Ava.

We lived in the same building in D.C. — the Woodner Hotel, a nice place, which is still around — though that’s not how we met.

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We met because my partner on the Washington police force struck out with her, so I asked him to give me her number so I could try.

I didn’t even know what she looked like, but I was up for the challenge and a chance to meet someone new.

We hit it off on that first phone call. I think it was because we started talking about how much we both loved dogs when I heard hers barking in the background.

Ava Lam, who hailed from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, captured this Massachusetts young man’s heart.

A little while after we met, I left the Washington police department and ended up taking a job with the Las Vegas police after meeting the Nevada sheriff while leading off the inaugural parade for President Dwight Eisenhower in D.C. in January 1957.

I moved out west, but Ava and I kept in touch. Months later, when I was hired by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which became the Drug Enforcement Administration, she joined me in Chicago, where I was assigned.

A month to the day after I took that job in the Windy City, we were married in a civil ceremony on Dec. 22, 1957. Later, I was transferred to Mexico City, where we were joined together again in a lovely Catholic cathedral.

Ava jumped right into the undercover work I was doing, play-acting the part of the wife of a drug dealer on the phone on more than one occasion to help me bust up narcotics rings in Chicago.

When the agency sent me to Turkey in the 1960s, my wife and young son came with me. We made that country — straddling Europe and the Middle East — our home for the next three years.

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Once again, Ava assisted in my undercover work, including one time when she danced with a film actor who we suspected was involved in running drugs.

Though not the stuff of spy thrillers, Ava’s skills in the kitchen proved helpful on the diplomatic front when we were transferred to Mexico City, where I served a four-year stint as regional director of the DEA in the early ’70s.

The agency was seeking to stem the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Mexico, and of course we needed the help of the Mexican government to make this happen.

My wife’s blueberry pie, of all things, assisted in making greater cooperation possible.

It all started when I invited the attorney general of Mexico at the time, Pedro Ojeda Paullada, to our home for dinner.

Ava served her homemade blueberry pie for dessert, and Paullada was an instant fan, as anyone with good taste would be.

Pretty much every time he came to my home thereafter, my wife made him pie. I also passed along some American whiskey for good measure. The relationship Paullada and I built gave me an open door not only to his office but to the Mexican president’s and other government officials’ as well.

It was good old-fashioned American homemade pie diplomacy!

After 31 years working in the federal government, including joining the Army when the Korean War broke out in 1950, I retired in 1982 from the DEA. Little did I know I had a whole other career ahead of me as the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.

It was very high-profile position, and I had a lot of threats — and of course they affected my wife and kids. They weren’t just idle threats. Many arrests were made. Not only did they threaten me, but some vicious threats were made against Ava.

I think it’s hard to understand the relationship between law enforcement officers and their families — how dangerous it can be and how it affects your spouse and kids, wondering if dad or mom might not come home that night.

During my DEA days in particular, there were many gunfights in foreign lands that I was involved in.

Through it all, here we are still together after 61 years.

We had a health scare about two years ago when Ava was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer.

It was during the heat of my 2016 re-election campaign, as well as the highly contested presidential race. I supported Donald Trump from day one of his candidacy and introduced him at a rally in Phoenix in July 2015.

Ava was a big fan too, and she was thrilled when then candidate-Trump called her after learning she was going through radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Subsequently, he has made several calls to my wife to check on her health and has done so even since becoming president.

He clearly wasn’t trying to be kind to get my support, because he already had it. I’ll never forget what he did for my wife, and she will never forget either.

In May of this year, doctors at the Mayo Clinic told Ava she was in full remission, and I can’t tell you the joy we felt.

We thank God and the incredible staff at Mayo.

I have to give credit to Ava for my success. She’s been a great wife, mother, grandmother and partner in fighting crime.

What does the Good Book say? “A virtuous woman who can find? For her worth is far more than rubies … Her husband is known at the gates … and he praises her.”

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Joe Arpaio had a long and decorated career in law enforcement before being elected sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1992. He is now a Special Contributor to The Western Journal.
Known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Joe Arpaio had a long and decorated career in law enforcement before being elected to Sheriff of Maricopa County in 1992.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1953, and as a Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, NV, police officer, Arpaio went on to build a law enforcement career as a federal narcotics agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For almost a decade, Arpaio was stationed in foreign countries where he headed the DEA combatting the drug trade in which, even by today’s standards, are highly volatile and dangerous in Turkey, the Middle East, Mexico and Central and South America. He was also a diplomatic attaché. In his last years with the DEA, Arpaio also gained invaluable expertise on border issues and enforcement as the head of the DEA in the border states of Arizona and Texas. He concluded his remarkable federal career as head of the DEA for Arizona.

In 1992, Arpaio successfully campaigned to become the Sheriff of Maricopa County, becoming the head of the nation’s third largest Sheriff’s Office which employs over 3,400 people. He served an unprecedented six 4-year terms. During his tenure as Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio consistently earned high public approval ratings.

In August, 1993, he started the nation’s largest Tent City for convicted inmates. Two thousand convicted men and women serve their sentences in a canvas incarceration compound. It was here that Arpaio launched his get-tough policies for inmates. He banned smoking, coffee, movies, pornographic magazines, and unrestricted TV in all jails. It is a remarkable success story that has attracted the attention of government officials, presidential candidates, and media worldwide.

Of equal success and notoriety were his chain gangs, which contributed thousands of dollars of free labor to the community by picking up litter, painting over graffiti and burying the indigent in the county cemetery.

Another program Arpaio was very well known for is the pink underwear he made all inmates wear. Years ago, when the Sheriff learned that inmates were stealing jailhouse white boxers, Arpaio had all inmate underwear dyed pink for better inventory control.

As chief law enforcement officer for the county, Arpaio continued to reduce crime with hard-hitting enforcement methods. He began an all-volunteer posse of 3,000 members, making it the nation’s largest volunteer posse. Posse men and women help in search and rescue and other traditional police work as well as in special operations like rounding up deadbeat parents, fighting prostitution, patrolling malls during holidays, and investigating animal cruelty complaints. The posse’s contributions are invaluable and essentially free to taxpayers.

In addition to these tough measures, the Sheriff launched rehabilitative programs like “Hard Knocks High,” the only accredited high school under a Sheriff in an American jail, and ALPHA, an anti-substance-abuse program that has greatly reduced recidivism.

He is now a Special Contributor to The Western Journal.

On a personal note, Sheriff Arpaio and his wife Ava have been married for over 56 years and have two children, both residing in the Phoenix area. The Arpaios have four grandchildren.
Topics of Expertise
Drug Enforcement, Law Enforcement, Politics