Five of Nevada’s former first ladies entertained guests Saturday with hilarious stories about life in the Governor’s Mansion, from chasing runaway dogs to handling scandals and visiting the White House.
Sandy Miller, whose husband, Bob Miller, served for 10 years as governor — from 1989 to 1999 — brought down the house at a packed ballroom at Caesars Palace with her candid quips before a crowd of more than 500 people.
“Welcome to the first blonde’s club,” Miller joked as she sat in the middle of a table with the other former first ladies onstage.
All the women appeared to have dyed blond locks, including former first ladies Dawn Gibbons (2006-’10), Kathy List (1979-’83), Dema Guinn (1999-2006) and Bonnie Bryan (1983-’89).
The two-hour event was part of Nevada’s yearlong 150th anniversary celebration ahead of Nevada’s Oct. 31 birthday.
First lady Kathleen Sandoval didn’t attend, citing a family emergency, according to the program organizers.
The first ladies were asked by moderator Paula Francis of KLAS-TV, Channel 8, whether they had been prepared for life in the mansion. None said they had been and all said they had been busier than expected.
“It was like drinking from a fire hose,” said Kathy List, who had to move just six blocks from her Carson City home to the mansion. The family had another problem, too: “Our dog kept running home.”
Millers at the mansion
Miller, who was 39 when she moved into the mansion, said she wasn’t ready to be so dignified. She came from the Las Vegas area, where “my name and lady had never been in the same sentence.”
“I still wanted to be first chick or first babe,” Miller said.
Living in the mansion could be interesting with inmates serving the first family, mostly murderers who tended to stay on for years.
After somebody threw a brick through the mansion’s window because they were mad at the governor over raising taxes on mining, the family finally got some security from Highway Patrol troopers, Miller said.
They also got a 24-hour security system, whose alarm went off by accident.
One day, Miller recalled, the trooper answered the telephone only to be told that the mansion was surrounded with gun-wielding cops after the alarm went off.
A few months later, that same trooper was with the Miller family when they ran out of the Circus-Circus hotel-casino in Reno after taking a picture of their son, Ross, in front of a fancy car. A security guard was in hot pursuit, making the trooper all the more uncomfortable.
Miller said she took everything in stride and had a good time. If there was bad news about the governor, she said, “Sometimes you hide the newspaper.” Otherwise, she said their marriage was and is a happy one.
Sometimes she’s asked whether she’s Miller’s ex-wife, and she said she tells people, “That’s Dawn,” who divorced Jim Gibbons while in office.
Dawn Gibbons laughed, calling herself the “ousted first lady.”
“I didn’t stand by my man,” Gibbons said, turning serious.
“Nothing prepared me for what I endured,” Gibbons said without going into details about a nasty divorce battle and infidelity allegations.
Still, Gibbons and the other first ladies said their jobs allowed them to promote favorite causes, from autism to free mammograms from a van that still travels rural Nevada offering breast cancer screenings.
The first ladies said they didn’t get much privacy in the mansion, where thousands of Nevadans meet each year in public spaces in the house.
Miller said one time her son, Ross, came downstairs in his underwear, only to find 300 Rotarians in the kitchen and dining area.
“Did he do it on purpose?” Gibbons quipped.
Ross Miller, now secretary of state, is running for attorney general in 2014 and is said to hope to one day become governor like his father.
Ross Miller, who was listening to the program, tweeted about his mother’s robust sense of humor as she stole the first ladies’ show:
“Well, my dad spent his entire political career telling my mom, ‘You can’t say that in public,’ ” Ross Miller tweeted.
Miller had one more salacious story to tell, however, this one about the time she and her husband stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom during President Bill Clinton’s administration. She said the Millers got in late, but her husband put his underwear in the drawer “like he was moving in.”
The next day, the president visited the bedroom and took a call. While he was sitting on the bed, Mrs. Miller sat on the end and urged her husband to take a picture of the two of them “in bed together.” He refused.
Then when Clinton got off the phone, he posed for the picture anyway.
“That was before Monica and I kept the dress,” Miller said to howls.
JUMPING ON LINCOLN’S BED
When Dema Guinn visited the White House during President George W. Bush’s administration, first lady Laura Bush invited her and several other gubernatorial first ladies to do something for fun, too.
Laura Bush asked whether they wanted “to jump on Lincoln’s bed.” They did.
Although the first ladies enjoyed public life, it was clear they relished the times they could go incognito out in public as well.
Guinn said she planted rose bushes at the Governor’s Mansion but didn’t trust the inmates to care for them adequately so she trimmed the bushes herself once a week. Passers-by would ask her questions, she said.
They wanted to know whether she got paid by the hour or got other benefits.
“How do you like working at the mansion?” one group asked her before the governor came outside and called her name to come inside.
“I go with him,” Guinn explained with a twinkle in her eye.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.