A retirement party for the last warden at Nevada State Prison was thrown Saturday at the prison he closed.
Former Warden Gregory Smith and more than 200 party-goers enjoyed the send-off for the retiree and wished him well in his next set of challenges, which before the event he said could include going to umpiring school and eventually entering politics. Smith, who goes by Greg, served 29 years with the Corrections Department. He rose from a corrections officer trainee in 1986 to warden at the prison in 2009. The decommissioned prison has been closed since 2012.
“It was a rough time,” said Smith, speaking of those years overseeing the 150-year-old prison, handling it’s closure, and also running the nearby Warm Springs Corrections facility that’s still operating.
“Closing down Nevada State Prison was pretty emotional,” the 50-year-old retiree said.
Being chosen warden, which culminated Smith’s rise through the ranks and into the Corrections Department central office, came to him as a complete surprise. He was handling classification duties and doubling as public information officer when Bill Donat, his predecessor as warden, was about to leave. He said he was told to prepare two news releases, one of them announcing Donat was leaving.
“The second press release is: ‘you’re taking his place,’” Smith explained he was told. “I was stunned, to be honest with you. It didn’t even cross my mind.”
Lisa Walsh, Smith’s wife since the 1980s, recently decided to throw the party Saturday and said 240 quickly confirmed they would attend.
“I was pretty overwhelmed by that response,” she said. She said her husband made many friends as he rose through the correctional officer ranks, took on caseworker roles, helped open other correctional facilities, set up training for correctional officers, did classification work and served as public information officer and then took over as NSP warden.
Smith stayed involved with correctional facilities’ progress right up until his July 7 retirement date, helping with a new restitution center involving a land swap and related matters in Reno.
“I’ve been invited on Sept. 1 to help make sure the new center is opened up right,” he said.
Included among accolades during Smith’s lengthy state career was a commendation for thwarting an escape in 1988 from what then was the maximum security prison. He said a confidential informant tipped him two inmates were putting Vaseline on their bodies and attempting to slide out through a window they had cut open earlier. Smith indicated the pair had escaped before.
Smith has many memories of his career, but is looking forward rather than back.
“It was a joyous time working for the state for 29 years,” he said, adding it was time for him to go as he bowed out right after Independence Day. Smith says probably early in 2016 he may attend umpire school in Reno and start umpiring high school softball games.
“I think, subconsciously, after 29 years you’re somewhat institutionalized and, I guess — picking up on this next facet of life — when you walk on the (ball) field, guess what? You’re the boss.”
Politics and public office are also at the back of his mind as future possibilities, though he wasn’t specific about which office or offices might interest him. He only took note a retired colleague from corrections had done that when Lori Bagwell, who closed out her career with the state as deputy director of corrections, last year sought and won a seat on Carson City’s Board of Supervisors.