Back in town


Richard Bryan of Clark County attended UNR when it was called, simply, the University of Nevada. Nevada Southern University, now UNLV, did not yet exist when he was ready for college, so he spent four years in Reno (class of ’59, ATO), then went on to become the state’s first public defender, a member of each house of the Nevada Legislature, state attorney general, governor, and U.S. senator. A few days ago, UNR dedicated a sculpture of him on the Reno campus.

When you were going to college, tell me what Reno was like.

Reno was probably larger than Las Vegas, although they approximated the same size. It was a relatively small community. There were no malls or anything like that. The airport consisted of kind of what looked like an old weather bureau station … and was nothing that looked like even a reasonably modern-day terminal. … The big debates that I recall were the location of the Interstate 80. And, you know, the original proposal was to—frankly, where it should have run—was north of where the campus was at that time. But there was a big debate in the business community, fearful that that would bypass Reno. And so the alignment was moved where it is today, which tragically kind of cut the campus off. … The other big debate that I recall—and, of course, I was a student, Dennis, I wasn’t participating—is that they were trying to get gaming extended to Sierra Street. The other major event that occurred when I was in college was the gas line that, I guess, that blew up , just blew up the whole block—the old Elks Club and all of that. [On Feb. 4 1957 a gas explosion near Sierra and First in downtown Reno damaged buildings in all directions, killed two people and injured 40.] It was relatively small, and all of the gaming was downtown. None of it was out.

The late ’50s, early ’60s produced an incredible crop of state leaders—Frank Fahrenkopf, Jim Santini, Roger Bremner, Jim Joyce, you. Was there something in the water, or the Lucky Lager?

I think it was just the time we spent at the Little Wal. I really don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. I mean, I was always interested in politics and I had run for all of these various offices in high school and that sort of thing, but campus politics was a big deal. Jim Joyce [later the state’s leading lobbyist], for example, was president of the fraternity and there were a lot of political issues, and when I say political, I mean internal [campus] stuff that the IFC [Interfraternity Council] had to deal with. Jim was always on the alert for that. … I was on the student union board. Fraternity life involved a lot of campus politics and the ATO house seemed to have a tradition of that. Procter Hug [later Nevada Regent, now judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit], for example, before I got to college, he was in the class of ’53, he was student body president, and an ATO, so there was kind of a bit of a tradition of that. The two biggest houses would be Sigma Nu and ATO, and there was always a rivalry from the time I got there. … You know, Paul Bible [later Nevada Gaming Commission chair] followed me and was student body president.

How were the barbers in town?

Well, your dad. Listen, I had more hair then.

As a matter of fact, you had a nickname, did you not?

My nickname was Whitey. There was also a barber shop as I recall, at the Mapes Hotel, I think, Kind of downstairs in the basement. There was a barber shop at the Riverside, but I always kind of went to your dad’s shop, which was kind of across the street, as I recall, from the newspaper. … And then right next to it was this restaurant.

The 116 Club, later the Stein.

The Stein.

You had a crew cut, didn’t you?

I had a flat top for many of those years. Not when I first came to campus, but by the time I was a more mature fellow, I’d gone for the flat top.