LAS VEGAS — Longtime Nevada state Sen. Debbie Smith died Sunday, a year after doctors started treating her for a malignant brain tumor, according to Democratic legislative officials. She was 60.
Senate Democratic caucus spokesman Peter Koltak said the Sparks lawmaker died at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno. Colleagues remembered her for her fierce dedication to public schools and the work of the Legislature, even when weakened by chemotherapy.
“Debbie’s commitment to Nevada was unparalleled,” Senate Democratic Leader Aaron Ford said in a statement. “Even while undergoing cancer treatment during the last legislative session, she passed legislation that will help build new schools and better protect children from bullying and abuse.”
Smith was first elected to the state Assembly in 2000 and won a seat in the Senate in 2012. She won several lawmaker of the year awards and was the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
She missed some of the 2015 legislative session after undergoing surgery last February at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, but closely followed developments in the Legislature and returned several weeks later. She was mobbed by well-wishers and her office was filled with bouquets when she returned to business part-time in April, accompanied by her daughter.
“My life was really hectic before this happened,” Smith said in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal published in October. “Now, I don’t even get upset.”
She attended meetings aimed at raising money for new school buildings and vowed to return for the next legislative session in the spring of 2017.
“I’m absolutely coming back,” Smith told the newspaper. “I made a commitment to the voters in my district.”
But Smith said she was also savoring time with her family, including her husband, Greg, and three children — Erin, Ian, and Olivia.
“I feel like my family deserves as much as I can give them,” she said.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said he was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of “my dear friend.”
“Debbie was a respected colleague and I will always value our time serving together in the Nevada Assembly and Senate.”
Elected officials offered their condolences Sunday, including Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who called Smith his friend.
”Debbie Smith was the epitome of an ideal neighbor, friend and public servant,” Reid said. “Debbie’s advocacy for adequately funding our education system will be felt in Nevada for a long time.”
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval called for flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset the day of Smith’s funeral, which has yet to be announced.
“Sen. Debbie Smith was an extraordinary public servant whose record of accomplishments and presence in the Nevada Legislature will remain unmatched in the years ahead,” he said. “I will personally miss her greatly and Nevada will miss her leadership.”