Some of those we lost
As we celebrate our national Day of Thanksgiving, it’s more important than ever to recognize those Nevadans who left us in 2016, lifting high the light of their exemplary lives and giving us hope and strength during the dark times ahead.
In 2016, Nevada lost the steadfast political leadership of Senator Debbie Smith and the kindness and goodness of First Lady Bonnie Bryan. Both dedicated their lives to improving our little corner of the world, leaving behind not only loving family members but legions of fans of their brand of politics, short on partisanship and long on results.
Nevada progressives also lost a legendary activist who leaves a void impossible to fill. Marge Sill was 92 when she died, having led a long and productive life as a Sparks math teacher and environmentalist who was known and revered as the mother of Nevada’s wilderness. She worked tirelessly for the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and played a key role in the creation of Nevada’s only national park in 1986, located near Baker in eastern Nevada. While the Great Basin National Park was a crowning achievement, Marge will be remembered even more for her persistent and tenacious activism for Nevada’s natural resources, fearlessly advocating against the Las Vegas water grab. She viewed her mentorship of young conservationists as part of her legacy, expecting no more of them than she gave herself.
Retired University of Nevada, Reno history Professor John Marschall was a philosopher, a scientist, a theologian and a historian. He also was an inspiration. In 1968, he helped establish the Center for Religion and Life at the university, successfully engaging college students and the greater community in deep discussions about life in those turbulent times. He later left the priesthood and married a Carmelite nun and the love of his life, Rita, and continued to serve his community, telling the RN&R, “The church is bigger than popes and priests. The church is people.”
Other Nevadans did not often appear on the newspaper’s front page but quietly and tirelessly improved our state. Attorney Pat Cashill, a trial lawyer with a warm personality, advocated effectively on behalf of the less fortunate at the Legislature and in his personal life. Roger McClelland, a dedicated public servant, served many long years in state government in health policy and later in constituent services at the Legislative Counsel Bureau. He died in Las Vegas in a motorcycle crash caused by a drunk driver.
It was especially saddening to learn of the death of Dr. El Tag Mirghani this year, a doctor who was robbed and attacked as he was leaving the Northern Nevada Muslim Center’s evening prayers in 2001 by two local teenagers wielding baseball bats. Dr. Mirghani could not resume his thriving medical practice due to his severe brain injuries. The senseless violence resulted in long prison terms and a family that struggled to recover for many years.
Jerry Kumar immigrated from India as a teenager to pursue the American Dream. He was a self-made businessman, settling in his adopted state of Nevada with his wife, Janet Carter. He raised two sons in Reno while acquiring hundreds of friends who became family, creating and sharing endless meals of traditional Indian fare, engaging deeply in Democratic politics, and living a life rich in experience and community service.
Ending on a note of celebration of our rich immigrant heritage, Thanksgiving 2016 will be remembered with joy in our multi-lingual, multi-cultural family as we celebrate this most American of holidays with my new grandson, Jack Rodriguez. He’s named after my father, Jack Leslie, whose own father was an immigrant from the Shetland Islands. Little Jack’s paternal grandmother, Carmen, is also an immigrant, from Mexico City. The entire family couldn’t possibly love him more.