RENO -- Monsignor Leo McFadden said it best: The late Bill Raggio loved his state so much and was so influential in its legislative history that his middle name "must have been Nevada."
More than 1,200 of his fellow Nevadans, including most of the state's political establishment, turned out at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Monday to honor Raggio, who died Feb. 24 of respiratory illness during a vacation trip to Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Dale. He was 85.
They cried and laughed as McFadden and other speakers eulogized the man who had served a record 38 years as a Republican senator from Reno, including 10 legislative sessions as Senate majority leader. He retired from the Legislature in January 2011 and was elected to the Senate Hall of Fame in April.
During the two-hour funeral, Gov. Brian Sandoval called Raggio "one of the greatest men we all have ever known."
"His impact touched every man, woman and child in Nevada. He told me, 'If you only do what you believe is right, you never can do wrong.' "
Raggio will be known as the father of the law that requires high school students to pass proficiency tests to secure diplomas and the constitutional amendment that limits legislative sessions to 120 days every other year. A political moderate who was willing to compromise with Democrats, he engineered the deal in 2009 that led to $800 million in temporary tax increases. Most of those increases were extended by Sandoval and the Legislature in 2011, averting a protracted special session.
Sandoval also called Raggio the "last great patriarch" of Nevada politics and asked the audience, including legislative leaders of both parties, to "follow his example."
The funeral was both solemn and humorous. A color guard of Marines and police officers carried the closed casket into the church. Raggio was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps at the end of World War II. A 21-gun salute sounded at the end of the service. Fourteen members of the Catholic clergy participated in the funeral Mass, which included communion for fellow church members of the audience.
When the hearse carried the remains away after the service, it passed under a huge American flag draped at the top of ladders on firetrucks on each side of the highway.
But there was even more levity than sorrow. Richard Bryan, a Democrat who formerly served as governor and U.S. senator, remembered going on a goodwill trip to China with Raggio in 1978, the year Bryan ran for state attorney general. As a practical joke, Raggio draped a "Bryan For Attorney General" sign over the Great Wall of China. An embarrassed Bryan hurriedly ripped the sign as security guards approached and while Raggio laughed in the distance.
Raymond "Skip" Avansino remembered he once asked Raggio why he had attended so many funerals, often delivering the eulogy.
Paraphrasing Yogi Berra, Raggio told him he went to funerals for other people because if he didn't, "they won't go to mine."
"Bill," he said, " the church is full."
McFadden joined in the humor. He remembered how Raggio would give him the sign of cutting his neck when he thought the religious service was going too long.
"I got the message," added McFadden, noting Raggio was a man of faith who now has "peace everlasting."
Among the members of the audience were U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, Senate caucus leaders Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, and former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who long served as state Senate Democratic leader when Raggio was the upper house's Republican leader.
The most touching tributes to Raggio came from his daughters, Tracy Raggio Chew and Leslie Raggio Righetti. Chew read the familiar passages of Ecclesiastes, saying for every time there is a season, including "a time to be born and a time to die."
Righetti mentioned how Raggio once told her he wished he could have captured rain from California and taken it to Nevada to green up the arid state.
"Bill, my dad, was the rain that made it better for all of us," said Righetti, who sang the silly campaign song her father had used in his 1970 political campaign for the U.S. Senate, the second of three statewide races he lost.
She also joked how her father hogged the family's only bathroom in the morning as she was growing up so that he could spend more time blow-drying his famous auburn hair.
All six of Raggio's grandchildren -- Jennifer Righetti, Johnathan Righetti, Meghan Righetti Nesher, Sommer Fernandes, Michael Righetti and Anthony Woodring -- participated in the service.
Raggio's first wife, Dorothy, died in 1998 after 49 years of marriage. His son, Mark, died in 2004. Raggio married his second wife, Dale, in 2003.
Fitting for a man who served his state for so long, the service concluded when the audience sang "Home Means Nevada," the state song.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.