Australian left his legacy on Henderson schools

McCaw Elementary School, 330 Tin St., is named for an Australian-born blind man who spent more than two decades educating Henderson's youths .

A large, framed photo of the school's namesake, Gordon McCaw, watches over the school's main office to this day.

McCaw was born on a sheep ranch in New South Wales, Australia.

When he was 15, his father died in a log-hauling accident. His mother moved the family of six to Sydney, where she lost her leg in a streetcar accident.

McCaw and his older brother dropped out of school to support the family.

He immigrated in 1931 to Nevada to live with his aunt and uncle, and he finished high school in Battle Mountain when he was 22 . He graduated from the University of Nevada in 1934.

McCaw's first education job out of college was teaching in a one-room school in Ruby Valley in n ortheastern Nevada.

He tried to enlist in the Army in 1941 but was denied because of his poor eyesight.

McCaw, like his two brothers, suffered from retinitis, which led to his eventual blindness.

He came to Henderson in 1943 and served as principal and janitor of Pittman Basic Trailer Park School . He earned a $2,500 salary.

His eyes didn't prevent him from serving as a field director for the American Red Cross from 1944-46 at Mountain Home Army Air Base and Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho, where he met his wife, Elsie, a secretary at Farragut.

He returned to Henderson to serve as principal of Townsite Elementary School and Henderson Junior High School for 14 years.

He became principal of Basic Elementary School in 1960 until he retired in 1966.

In 1969, the Clark County School District renamed the school after McCaw.

He was an avid swimmer throughout his life. While attending the University of Nevada, he once attempted to swim across Lake Tahoe but was forced to stop due to the extremely cold water, according to his late wife.

McCaw was director of the Red Cross swimming program in Henderson and Clark County Water Safety Program for a decade.

McCaw was a charter member of the Henderson Lions Club and raised funds for sight conservation programs.

His guide dog was a German shepherd named Nevada Kim.

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins was a student at Basic and remembered his old, "confused" principal with "glasses as thick as Coke bottles."

During Collins' tenure at Basic, his mother remarried a man named Gibbs, and McCaw routinely confused him with another student with his mother's last name.

"I was an honor roll student," Collins said. "He was in remedial reading and a troublemaker.

"When she called and said, 'T his is Tommy Collins' mother,' he would praise me.

"When she said, 'T his is Mrs. Gibbs calling about my son,' he would say what a rotten son of a gun I was."

Nevertheless, "they made a good decision to name the school after him," Collins said.

Former governor and Las Vegas Sun executive editor Michael O'Callaghan wrote in a Sept. 21, 1981, editorial, "No person has contributed more to Nevada's children.

"Gordon left a lot of family and friends behind. He also left behind thousands of educated Nevadans who will always respect the man who guided them through school.

"Gordon, although blind, saw more of life and offered more to others than any sighted person I know."

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at or 224-5524.