More fond farewells

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Betty Munley was born in Reno on Christmas Day in 1933. She graduated from Reno High School and was the first member of her family to go to college, earning her degree from University of Nevada, Reno, and then serving in the Navy. Betty was a tireless, humble advocate for seniors, dedicating her entire professional life to public service.

I met Betty when she was looking for ways to increase the number of seniors served by the Care and Share nutrition program. She took me to the Senior Citizens Center to lunch with people as they ate their only hot meal of the day. She educated me about Nevada’s highest-in-the-nation rate of senior suicides and told me what she was doing about it, creating a senior help line at the Crisis Call Center.

After she retired in 1995, I didn’t see Betty that often except when I would knock on her door during a campaign cycle. She would insist on getting me a glass of water and sitting down to talk about what could be done to get money out of politics. She knew the money spent on campaigns corrupted the process and could think of many more places it could be used more productively, such as feeding and housing senior citizens.

Betty died on Nov. 8. She was a true humanitarian, never waiting for someone else to solve a problem she could attack herself.

Another Reno icon also passed away in November, Dennis (Denny) McMullen. Denny and his wife, Lea, operated a local small business, Denny’s Dependable Automotive for more than 30 years. Denny was known far and wide as an honest mechanic who would give you the straight answer you needed to make a good decision about an aging vehicle. He approached each vague car complaint, of which I made many, as a puzzle to be solved, without making his customers feel stupid or patronized.

Before he started his business, Denny was a detective and then a felon, convicted of a non-violent crime involving marijuana. He did his prison time and faced all the negative consequences without blaming others for his actions. But as an ex-felon, he could not understand why it was so difficult to get his voting rights restored.

Whenever I’d pick up my car, I’d talk politics with Denny in the front office that smelled of coffee, cigarettes and old magazines, with a vintage “Nevada is not a Wasteland” bumper sticker on the wall. In 2003, I asked Denny to testify in favor of a bill to make the process of returning voting rights to ex-felons much easier. He readily agreed, despite his low-key personality and the possibility that many of his customers would learn of his past. “Hell,” he said. “They probably already know.”

He told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I miss my right to vote. I wanted to be a good member of the community and a productive member of the community. It was embarrassing to admit to anybody I had been in prison. In 1994, 15 years after I had been arrested, I applied to get my civil rights restored and was turned down informally by the governor’s office. In 1996, I got an attorney, and after 3 years and $8,000, I finally got my right to vote returned. It was an arduous process with many fingerprintings, surprise visits by probation and parole to my home, and letters written. … It could be done more easily, and it should be. … If we want felons integrated back into the community, we have got to give them the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, it is a never-ending cycle.”

I didn’t get a chance to chat with Denny about Nevada’s lowest-ever voter turnout last month, but I can imagine what he would have said.