Good Men Never Die

Image Kaya Tuncer, 74, passed away on January 7, 2012 at his Pacific Palisades home after a two-and-a-half-year struggle with stomach cancer and its complications. A resident in Pacific Palisades, CA since 1969, Tuncer was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and mega-builder. He oversaw numerous large construction projects and business ventures throughout the world. The chain of events leading up to Tuncer's greatest achievement' development of one of the world's leading industrial parks' reads like a classic American immigrant success story.

Tuncer was born in 1937 in Trabzon, Turkey. His father was a high school teacher of Turkish literature. His mother worked as a seamstress so that they could afford to send him to a French-language boarding school in Istanbul.

At the age of 19, the bold and determined young Turk immigrated to the U.S. to pursue his dream of becoming a builder. Tuncer arrived in California in 1957 with only $80 in his pocket and set out to complete his higher education. He worked various jobs, including washing dishes, to put himself through college and send money back to his family in Turkey. He first studied at Santa Ana College, and then obtained a degree in civil engineering from UC Berkeley in 1962.

While living at International House at Berkeley, Tuncer met his future wife of 48 years, Mary. Kaya and Mary were married a year and a half later, first living in Santa Ana, then in married-student housing at USC, where Tuncer received an MBA in international business in 1967.

Just before they were expecting their first child, Kaya and Mary moved to Pacific Palisades and bought their first house on Bollinger Drive.

Tuncer had a 50-year career with major construction, architectural, engineering and real estate development companies, eventually starting his own company.

In the 1960s and early '70s, Tuncer worked at the Los Angeles-based Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall (DMJM) and Gruen Associates. In the early 1970s, just before their second daughter was born, Kaya and Mary built a new home for themselves on Lucero Drive, off Paseo Miramar.

As a construction executive for Bechtel Corporation in the '70s and '80s, Tuncer played a major role in the development of the Saudi Arabian Industrial City of Jubail and the James Bay hydroelectric complex in Canada. He moved the whole family to Montreal for one year, then Saudi Arabia for six years, eventually returning to their home in the Palisades.

Tuncer eventually left Bechtel to start his own ventures. Shortly thereafter, the Turkish government offered him the opportunity to develop and operate the Aegean Free Zone in Izmir, Turkey. Tuncer launched the project in 1990 on 550 acres of vacant land. Today, the Aegean Free Zone is Turkey's leading industrial park, employing 20,000 people, with a trade volume of $5 billion in 2011.

“If the Aegean Free Zone is testimony to Tuncer's most remarkable contribution as a builder, then the establishment of Space Camp Turkey can be considered his biggest gift to youth of the world,'” remarked Scott Woodham, director of international marketing for Space Camp Turkey.

'Tuncer’s vision to shape future leaders through space science education has resulted in over 100,000 participants from nearly 55 countries,' Woodham added.

Tuncer had many other interests. He was an antique-car aficionado, creating an antique-car museum at the Aegean Free Zone with 21 cars, including many brought from the U.S. He loved boats and often spent weekends or vacations boating in the Aegean. He enjoyed music, especially classical and Turkish music. Eight years ago, Tuncer bought a vacation home in Lake Tahoe, where he enjoyed spending time with his family.

He is survived by his wife, Mary; daughters Deniz (husband Derek Cressman) of Sacramento and Ayshe (Mike Anderson) of Santa Cruz; and two grandchildren, Sylvie and Peri. Both daughters graduated from Palisades High. (Source:

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07