Give thanks for local heroes

As Thanksgiving Day arrives once again, we give thanks for the heroic examples of public service from those who passed on this year, honoring their contributions to our small corner of the world, which helped create a more generous and compassionate community.

In 2017, Lindsay Jones Lightfoot, a social worker specializing in serving the severely mentally ill with dignity and respect, died unexpectedly, leaving behind a multitude of clients and co-workers to mourn her.

Meg Cleary died after a lengthy battle with cancer. She’d had a stellar career of service in hospital administration and was the executive director of the Children’s Cabinet from 2006-09.

Bill Wollitz was a Reno icon in the field of drug and alcohol treatment, founding the Northern Area Substance Abuse Council (NASAC) during a time when little was known about addiction as a brain disease and people thought addicts should be able to quit “cold turkey” whenever they pleased. Bill could be tough on people, but he had a heart of gold that guided his strong social justice values.

Denis Graham was a professional educator serving for many years at the Nevada Department of Education and as an administrator in the Washoe County School District. He was a strong advocate for sex education, and career and technical education, adding a vocation as a marriage and family therapist in his later years.

Jim McCormick, Nevada’s artist extraordinaire, had a long and productive career of artistic endeavors and leadership and helped create the Nevada Arts Council to support others. He was a university art professor, a printmaker, a poet, an author, an activist, a mentor to many and a friend to all.

Dean Baker, rancher and activist, never hesitated to lobby for his beloved Snake Valley in eastern Nevada, taking on the powerful Southern Nevada Water Authority that tried to steal life-affirming rural water to feed Las Vegas developers’ greed. He was a quiet, unimposing man who spoke softly but strongly to protect our most valuable natural resource. He fought the government’s ill-advised MX missile project in Nevada and won, once telling a local newspaper he was “a bullheaded, opinionated old goat,” an epitaph we should all be so lucky to earn.

Virginia Cain, the grande dame of Democratic politics in Nevada, was a long-time political leader, serving on countless committees and as a chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party. She was passionate about politics and offered her opinions freely and vividly to many a Democratic politician, intimidated by no one, fully living her values every day of her life.

Two Nevada district court judges were lost this year whose legacies will serve as beacons of hope to many Nevadans in the years to come. Judge Jack Lehman was born Jaco Walruch in Germany. He and his sister escaped Nazi Germany, traveling to Ellis Island as refugees at the tender ages of 7 and 9, and were raised by adoptive parents. Judge Lehman created the first drug court in Nevada, helping thousands of people emerge from their addictions stronger and more able to cope with the stress of modern life.

Finally, this Thanksgiving we remember Judge Patrick Flanagan, who died suddenly last month after a storied career that culminated with his election as chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court, where he presided with equanimity and measured justice. He was an inspiration to many after a bicycle accident in 2001 left him paralyzed but never bitter, and always willing to listen and advise.

Although we grieve the loss of these fine Nevadans, they offer us examples of how life may be lived with integrity and kindness instead of the crassness and mean-spiritedness exhibited by so many of today’s leaders and politicians. As we give thanks today, let’s remember them.