As the son of migrant fruit pickers in Central California, Kenny C. Guinn would read the daily newspaper to his illiterate father.
It was a chance for the elder Guinn to get the news of the day, but it also had importance to his son, recalled former Gov. Robert List, who grew up with Guinn in Exeter, Calif.
"The real drill was so Kenny would be a good reader and know what was going on in the world," List said.
The drill worked as Guinn was named high school valedictorian, the first step toward a lifetime of success that took him to the highest levels of education, business and politics.
Guinn, Nevada's 28th governor, died Thursday at the age of 73.
He had been on the roof of his Las Vegas house clearing away pine needles. His wife of 54 years, Dema, found him unconscious on the ground about 10:30 a.m., family spokesman Billy Vassiliadis said.
Guinn was taken to University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said.
An autopsy was scheduled for today .
Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, a longtime friend of the former governor, said Guinn's son, Jeff, informed him of his father's death Thursday morning.
"He was such a close personal friend that I just feel a great personal loss," a shaken Raggio said. "I ache for his family. We've lost one of the best governors we've ever had. He was a guy who really loved this state."
As a two-term Republican governor from 1999 to 2007, Guinn was a champion of education whose moderate politics often rankled conservatives in his own party.
Former governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat, said one of Guinn's most impressive talents was his ability to build consensus.
"He was able to bring parties together and forge a compromise," Bryan said. "He was able to effectively work both sides of the aisle. He was a moderate. He was not an ideologue. He was more interested in achieving results than scoring political points."
Guinn drew fire from fellow Republicans in 2003 when he pushed through a record $833 million tax increase, with several Republican lawmakers labeling the governor a RINO, short for Republican in name only, former state Archivist Guy Rocha said.
"What struck me about him is he was a Nevadan first and a partisan second," he said.
Although the 2003 tax debate was the most contentious issue of Guinn's tenure, the most lasting element of his legacy might be the founding of the Millennium Scholarship program.
The scholarship, now named for Guinn, was established with money from a national tobacco lawsuit settlement. Since it started a decade ago, more than 60,000 Nevada high school graduates have used it to attend Nevada colleges.
"I would say he's probably one of our biggest education heroes that you could think of," Clark County School Board President Terri Janison said.
Longtime political consultant Sig Rogich, who ran both of Guinn's campaigns for governor, said it would be hard to find anyone in state history who has done more in a lifetime of public service.
"He grew up in poverty, and I don't think he ever lost sight of that," Rogich said.
Guinn's humble origins date to Aug. 24, 1936, when he was born in Garland, Ark.
Several years later, his family strapped a mattress to the top of their car and drove to California, settling in the farming community of Exeter in the San Joaquin Valley.
"As kids we worked alongside Cesar Chavez in the fields. Got along with him then and would get along with him now," Guinn told The Nevadan Today in 1987, referring to the civil rights activist who founded the United Farm Workers. "I'm very conservative, but very liberal in some areas. ... I feel people ought to work and not get something for nothing, but I have also learned there are people who need help."
Guinn was a star athlete at Exeter Union High School. He was recruited by the University of Southern California to play football, but when the coach refused to let him play basketball as well, he turned down the deal, according to The Foothills Sun-Gazette, which last year named him one of his high school's 25 top athletes.
Guinn opted to play for California's Fresno State College , where he was named most valuable player for both sports, the paper said.
He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education from Fresno State College and a doctorate in education from Utah State University. He taught high school English and math in California for four years before moving to Las Vegas in 1964 to work as a low-level administrator in the Clark County School District.
"What I saw then was just where he left off," said List, who had moved to Las Vegas a few years earlier. "Energy, enthusiasm, teachers loved him."
So did the School Board, which in 1969 named the 32-year-old the new district superintendant.
In the early 1970s, Guinn dealt with racial tensions and parent boycotts after implementing a student busing plan to comply with court-ordered desegregation for the district.
Guinn faced stiff criticism for the plan, but he told protesters there was no choice.
"People did come together to object," Guinn recalled in 2004. "At one meeting, I told them, 'Listen, this is the law of the land. This has been ruled by the court, and we need to abide by it.' "
The Rev. Marion Bennett, a civil rights leader at the time, said Guinn's leadership "laid the foundation and paved the way" for school integration.
Guinn appointed a black assistant superintendant and hired black principals, coaches and teachers to work at schools outside the historically black neighborhood of West Las Vegas, Bennett said. And Guinn's decision to bring black counselors into the school system helped positively shape the future of its black students.
"So many black children went to college who otherwise wouldn't have," Bennett said Thursday.
Guinn didn't make those changes because of outside pressure but because "it was the right thing to do," he said.
Guinn left the district in 1978 to enter the business world, joining Nevada Savings and Loan as a vice president in 1978 and becoming president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board in 1987.
He also served as chairman of the Nevada Development Authority, president and board chairman of PriMerit Bank and as a director of Federal Home Loan Bank in San Francisco
He served as chairman and chief executive officer of Southwest Gas from 1988 to 1993 and as the chairman of the board from 1993 to 1997. In 2007, he was elected to the board of directors of MGM Mirage, now known as MGM Resorts International.
While in the private sector, Guinn often answered the call of public service.
"Long before he became governor, he was the go-to guy for Democrats and Republican governors alike when they needed someone to chair an independent commission," Bryan said.
Guinn played an important role as chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department's Fiscal Affairs Committee and also headed a state commission that reviewed fire codes in the aftermath of the deadly 1980 MGM Grand fire, Bryan said.
In 1994, Guinn served as interim president at University of Nevada, Las Vegas after the ugly fallout among former President Robert Maxson, legendary Rebels basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and the Las Vegas community. He was credited with balancing academics with athletics at UNLV after the NCAA's dogged investigation of policy violations with Tarkanian's teams.
His tenure lasted just one year, but during that time, he balanced the university's budget despite inheriting a $10 million deficit. Guinn insisted on being paid just $1 for the year, with the rest of his $165,000 salary going to scholarships.
At the time, then-university system Regent Shelley Berkley called him "the best thing that has happened to UNLV in a decade."
Despite his high public profile, Guinn resisted running for elected office.
In 1987, he told The Nevadan Today that he might have more influence in the private sector than as a politician worried about upsetting voters.
"There are some things you can do as a politician, and some you can't," said Guinn, then-president of Nevada Savings and Loan. "I see some big changes coming, and if it requires a tax increase, and that's what I really believe, I can afford to stand up and say so. A lot of times a politician can't because he couldn't get elected again. If I want to develop a community, I may be in the best place to do it right now."
But a decade later, Guinn ran for governor with the backing of Rogich, who recalled Thursday how the late Democratic Gov. Mike O'Callaghan and former Republican U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt had predicted in the late 1960s that Guinn one day would be governor or a U.S. senator.
"For years, I had attempted to have him seek office, but he repeatedly told me that he and Dema weren't ready," Laxalt said Thursday. "Eventually, after raising his family and achieving financial independence, he won a resounding victory."
Guinn defeated Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones in 1998, and four years later, he was re-elected in a landslide over state Sen. Joe Neal.
Rocha said people weren't sure what to expect from Guinn because he was one of the few state governors with no elected political experience. It became clear pretty quickly that Guinn was up to the job, he said.
"I think he will go down in Nevada history as one of our best governors," he said.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, a Democrat, recalled Guinn as a strong supporter of education with an open ear for opposing views.
She pointed to a bill she sponsored that would let Nevadans buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Guinn threatened to veto the bill but changed his mind after speaking with Buckley.
"He told me that if I was so sure it was the right thing to do and if it would help Nevadans, that he would support it," Buckley said in a statement. "That's the kind of Governor he was -- never partisan -- and always concerned about Nevadans."
Greg Bortolin, Guinn's press secretary from 2001 to 2005, remembered Guinn as a demanding but kind and considerate boss. Bortolin recalled arriving early to his office only to find Guinn was already there and making coffee for the staff.
"He taught me personally how to treat people. There was nothing that upset him more than somebody being mistreated," Bortolin said. "He hated bullying, he hated people who were dictatorial."
Bortolin recalled an incident in 2004 when Guinn flubbed a speech in Las Vegas to the Nevada Taxpayers Association.
On the way home from Washington, D.C., Guinn planned to stop to make the speech while Bortolin returned to Reno. Having been up late the night before and without Bortolin's help to prepare, Guinn made some mistakes.
The gaffes were covered in the next day's news, and "the phones were ringing off the hook," Bortolin said. He worried what might happen next.
"The next morning ... he apologized for what he had done in Las Vegas," he said. "Honestly, I thought I was going to have my ass handed to me."
Rocha, who served under six governors, said Guinn "had a certain toughness about him, but he wasn't mean-spirited."
Despite the heat Guinn took for the tax increase, Time magazine in 2005 named him one of the five top governors in the country, noting his ability to come out stronger after the tax hike that was a "controversial but realistic step to shore up the overstretched budget of the nation's fastest-growing state."
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman called Guinn a "fearless governor" who did a lot of unpopular things.
"The state was in trouble," Goodman said Thursday. "He had the courage to say, 'We're going to raise taxes.' He straightened the state out."
Guinn left office in 2007 as the second-oldest governor in state history, serving until he was 70.
But even later in life, Guinn had the chiseled jaw line, football body and energy he displayed as a young man.
"He was physically impressive in size, and he had lots of personality," Bryan said. "He was a guy you could visualize on the cover of Field and Steam."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid also noted Guinn's good looks and personality.
"He had such a magnetic personality," he said in a statement. "Kenny Guinn was built like an athlete. He was handsome like a movie star."
Henderson Public Information Officer Bud Cranor, who served on Guinn's senior staff for four years and managed the governor's office in Las Vegas, said Guinn will be remembered for the indelible mark he left on the state.
"When he was governor," he said, "you just didn't worry because he loved Nevada."
In addition to his wife, Guinn is survived by their two sons, Jeff and Steve.
Funeral arrangements were pending Thursday.
Review-Journal reporters Henry Brean, Alan Choate, Lynnette Curtis, James Haug, Arnold M. Knightly, Lawrence Mower, Laura Myers, Antonio Planas, Jennifer Robison and Howard Stutz contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281. Contact reporter Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.