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  • Arizona Contractor & Community

Joe Lilly, A Friend of Arizona Construction, Passes

Our great friend, Joe Lilly, an early supporter of Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, passed away recently. Joe’s name opened many doors for us, helping pave the way to create a publication about the state’s construction industry. We will miss him greatly and are running this tribute to his legacy.


The magazine spotlighted Joe's retirement back in 2014. So, of course, he came up with a funny quote to mark the milestone event. “When you find yourself working with the grandchildren of your original clients, it’s time to think about retiring,” he said. At the time, Joe had been a vital part of Arizona construction for more than 40 years.


Joe was a native of Independence, Missouri, born to Don and Juanita Lilly on October 16, 1948. Joe grew up in Santa Ana, California, and pursued hobbies where he learned problem-solving skills that would later come in handy in the construction industry. For example, to get their surfboards to the beach, Joe and his friends designed a clever method of transporting them tied to the back of their bicycles. “We used to take nine-foot Hobie boards and put an eyelet on the front. Then we hooked the surfboard to the back seat of our 10-speeds after adding wheels where the scag [or fin] was located,” he recalled.

Still, Joe had no idea he would eventually become involved in the construction industry. After finishing technical college, he operated and maintained heavy equipment in the Los Angeles area. Then, after a trip to Arizona, he was hooked and got a job as a diesel mechanic for Kennedy Machinery.


The owner asked if Joe wanted to go into rental sales, which he did in the morning while still doing mechanical work in the afternoon. Whenever he could, he took Associated Equipment Distributors rental classes. “My big break came when Mike Miller, owner of Southwest Rental, offered me a job as a rental manager,” he says. “Mike was a great mentor, and Southwest pioneered the heavy equipment rental business as you see it today.”


Starting in the 1970s, Joe supplied Arizona contractors with heavy equipment. Some favorites include Herb Tiffany, who was honest, ethical, and always took the time to see him, and Bob Wheeler, a contractor who bought his first late-model CAT 613 scraper from him. Joe recalled how Mike Markham got started in his garage, and Wayne Rawlings opened his business in a one-room office on West Broadway. “These men are examples of hard work and dedication,” Joe said. “I felt privileged to be around these icons of Arizona construction.”


Joe enjoyed his work, and many of his clients became friends over the years. For the last two decades, he worked with Owen Cowing, Linda Cowing, and Jeremy Cowing at Red Mountain Machinery. “I’ve been blessed to work for the Cowing family. They are a class act in a competitive industry,” he said.


To read the rest of this article, you are invited to purchase the digital issue here.

This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2023 issue, Vol. 12, No. 1.

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