Harry Reid recently announced he was selling his home in Searchlight and moving to Henderson.
Reid’s residence on 110 acres is being bought by a mining company for $1.7 million, according to published reports.
The change of address was long overdue. Not only because Reid and wife Landra are getting older and have suffered from various medical issues and injuries over the years — visitors to Searchlight will note it’s short on doctors and emergency services — but also because the move will put the two closer to children and grandchildren.
And there’s something else.
Although his Searchlight story was redolent with personal symbolism, and Senate Majority Leader Reid’s seldom been shy about mentioning his hardscrabble start and rock-ribbed boyhood, I’d argue that Henderson is his true hometown.
Sure, Reid was born in Searchlight. The biography doesn’t lie. And, true enough, his family experience in Searchlight was influential — often in negative ways — during his formative years.
Reid has to work in his memoir to wax nostalgic about Searchlight, the broken-down, brothel-infested mining burgh south of Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 93. When the local whore master, Willie Martello, is seen as a positive influence on the populace in part because he lets kids swim in El Rey Motel’s pool, you know you’re in rough country.
Henderson was where his life worth living began, where his first dreams were conjured, where the spark of education was nurtured, where he met men who would deeply influence the rest of his life.
Most important, Henderson is where he met the love of his life and his future wife. Without her, the guy would probably be chasing his daddy’s delusion of finding gold in played-out veins.
He’d probably argue that his Searchlight grade-school teacher Mrs. Pickard saved him from educational oblivion. “I can’t remember one thing she taught me, not one,” Reid wrote in his 2008 memoir, “The Good Fight: Hard Lessons From Searchlight to Washington.” “But she was the first person to teach me that it was good to learn, she was the first person who instilled in me the desire to read.”
And unlike most of the other teachers who remained in Searchlight only long enough to build a grubstake before moving on, she stuck it out with the ragged children.
Mrs. Pickard helped him develop a love of reading, but it was in Henderson at Basic High that Reid gained the educational fundamentals and social skills he’d need to grow up from that parched, fallow sand.
As Reid put it, “When you finished Searchlight School, you either went to high school someplace distant, or you didn’t go anywhere and that was the end of your education.”
He sometimes hitchhiked 45 miles to get there. In Henderson he met a no-nonsense government teacher and Korean War veteran named Mike O’Callaghan, the future Nevada governor who instructed him in civics in the classroom, but also boxing at the local Boys Club. It was there he met friends such as the recently deceased Gary Bates, a prizefighter and casino dealer, and others who would remain his fiercely loyal allies. Bates would have taken a bullet for Reid, and he would have fired one as well.
Without O’Callaghan’s confidence-inspiring style and push to help Reid on to higher education in Washington, D.C., would the future Senate titan have made it far from Clark County? I doubt it.
But by far the greatest gift Henderson gave Reid was Landra Gould, the daughter of a local chiropractor.
“She was wearing short-shorts,” Reid wrote. “I remember that. And she was washing the family car.
“Her family lived on a nice street in Henderson, and I was just driving around. And that’s when I saw her. And I thought, Wow, that’s a pretty nice car washer. I was starting to like life in the big city.”
He also liked the fact she was smart and lived in a house that, to Reid, resembled the Taj Mahal. They’ve been partners ever since.
Henderson is the closest thing Reid will ever get to having a real hometown.
Searchlight can claim him, but a sign in Henderson should read, “Welcome home, Harry.”
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.