Northern Nevada loses several in 2001 who made a difference

From entertainment and the arts to governmental reformers, Northern Nevada this year lost a number of residents who have made a difference over the past half-century.

Probably the best known nationally and worldwide was Bob Laxalt. While his brother Paul gained fame as governor and a U.S. senator, it was Bob Laxalt's gentle prose that breathed life into the history and experiences of immigrants -- especially the Basques.

Probably best known among his 17 books is "Sweet Promised Land," the story of his father Dominique's return to Basque homeland 50 years after emigrating. He was also known for his generosity in helping young writers find their way to success. To develop and publish works of Nevada writers, he founded the University of Nevada Press in 1961.

Also near year's end, Nevada lost one of its most generous supporters of the arts. Moya Lear, widow of Lear Jet inventor Bill Lear, died at 86. Lear loved the performing arts from childhood as the daughter of Ole Olsen of the Olsen and Johnson vaudeville team.

She served on the boards of the Nevada Opera Association, Sierra Arts Foundation and Nevada Festival Ballet and made numerous gifts to develop and support the arts in the Reno area, including donating $1.1 million to help restore the Christian Science Church west of downtown Reno into the Lear Theater. She attended church and taught Sunday school there for 30 years.

Most recent on the list was Hank Etchemendy, who guided Carson City through the consolidation of the capital and Ormsby County in 1969.

Carson wasn't the only Nevada city to benefit from his leadership. He was Elko city manager from 1955 until hired by Carson City. He left the capital to become Reno city manager in 1978.

Etchemendy left his mark in developing legislation that ensures the financial health of Nevada's local governments. Later he served as director of the Nevada Association of School Boards, lending his financial and governmental expertise to the task of protecting local school districts around the state.

John Aberasturi, longtime head of the Nevada Children's Home in Carson City, died at 78. He was a Carson resident 40 years and worked at the children's home for 20 years. He was long active in community affairs, especially involving children, as well as the catholic Church.

Wilson McGowan died at 93. McGowan served 10 years in the state Senate representing Pershing County, and 16 years as state controller retiring in 1984. Former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan described him as "one of the finest public servants I've known."

Former State Welfare Director George Miller died at 81. He held that post 13 years under three different governors and is often remembered for his colorful comments, such as his quote after the Legislature heaped more duties on his agency. He said he felt like "a fire hydrant in a field full of dogs."

Minor Kelso, who was Medicaid director under Miller said he didn't want to be a "give-away" administrator.

"But he was not a conservative," he said. "He had empathy for the welfare recipients."

W. Howard Winn, who served 19 years on the Nevada Tax Commission, died at 85. He was with Kennecott Copper Corp. 36 years, the last 12 as general manager of the Nevada Mines Division in Ely. He was also a lobbyist at the Legislature for the mining industry but, according to friends, one who believed laws could protect not only mining but the state's wildlife, air and water quality.

John Nulty, for years Nevada's unofficial state photographer, died at 91. A lifelong resident of Carson City, he began as a photographer for the Nevada Department of Highways in 1930. He worked for the secretary of state until retiring in 1979 and during that time photographed four U.S. presidents and every Nevada governor and faithfully recorded the state's history in photos as it occurred.

He was also the Nevada governor's liaison for Veterans Affairs.

David Meligan was warden of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center and just 41 when he died. He lost control of his motorcycle in a sharp curve on State Route 341 between Virginia City and Silver City. Meligan was described as "a shining star" in the department, known as progressive and willing to listen and work with all sides.


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