So long, good friend

Tony Armstrong’s memorial service is Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Reed High School gym.

Tony Armstrong’s memorial service is Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Reed High School gym.

Mike Carrigan is a Sparks City Councilman and a journalism instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The entire Truckee Meadows lost a friend Saturday when Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong, 59, died.

I met him in 1999, the first time I ran for the Sparks City Council. He supported me when no one else would. He became a close friend, but more importantly, he became my fishing buddy.

You learn an awful lot about a man when you sit in a boat with him for eight hours at a time.

He was very religious but didn’t beat the Bible over your head. He loved his family and would talk non-stop about his wife, Debby. He would talk about the citizens of Sparks and what we could do to make their lives better.

He wasn’t a politician. He was just a nice guy, who happened to be the mayor of Sparks.

The first thing Tony did when he became mayor was to tack up a sign in the council chambers that simply read: RESPECT. That’s what he expected everyone in the city to show to citizens. That’s what he expected in return.

He wasn’t a presumptuous man. What you saw is what you got.

He grew up in a poor family and never forgot his humble beginnings. He went out of his way to help those who were having a rough go of it.

When my wife and I would go on vacation, he would make sure my daughter had his cell phone number in case, as he put it, “The pipes leak, the refrigerator stops working or whatever.”

Tony would drive me and City Councilman Geno Martini crazy at council meetings, especially when Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts were in the audience. Tony treated council meetings like they were family reunions. I would look at Geno, roll my eyes and say to the mayor, “Well, Tony, you managed to turn a half-hour meeting into four hours, again.”

He’d just laugh and say, “Get over it.”

I did—because that was pure Tony.

He asked me to come by the hospital the Wednesday before he died. I didn’t want to go, not because I didn’t want to see him, but because I have a thing about hospitals. Anyone who has ever been in the military knows where I’m coming from when I say they are bad, bad places. But I went.

Tony was in good spirits, and I tried to make him laugh. He did. Then he got serious, but not about his condition. He was worried about the citizens of Sparks. He made Geno and me promise to take care of his city. We did.

We shook hands goodbye, and as I was leaving, he grabbed my left hand and said, “Thanks for being my friend.”

No, Tony, a million thanks for being mine.