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Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson among notable Nevada deaths of 2019

Among the many Nevada newsmakers who died in 2019 were a state legislator known as a champion for education and homeless initiatives, a businessman who led the effort to bring Triple-A baseball to Las Vegas, and the first African-American president of a Nevada state college.

Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson was defined by his character, not his title, according to those who knew him.

Hundreds of friends, family members and residents gathered in downtown Las Vegas on a May morning to pay respects to the 51-year-old Democratic state lawmaker from North Las Vegas. Thompson died in Carson City on May 4 after falling ill.

Speakers said Thompson’s impact as an advocate for education, the homeless and the North Las Vegas community seemed immeasurable. “Tyrone was always present to make the Nevada community and the people in it stronger,” U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., told the audience.

Larry Koentopp, who led the move to bring Triple-A baseball to Las Vegas in 1983, died Jan. 12 at age 82.

With Koentopp leading the ownership group, the Spokane Indians moved to Las Vegas in September 1982 and made their debut April 10, 1983, as the San Diego Padres’ top minor league affiliate.

“Larry brought Triple-A professional baseball to Southern Nevada,” Las Vegas Aviators President Don Logan said at the time of the longtime baseball executive and former Stars/51s majority owner’s death.

The College of Southern Nevada’s longest-serving president and the state’s first African-American college leader, Paul Meacham, died Dec. 7 at 83.

Meacham, a longtime advocate for higher education in Southern Nevada and throughout the country, was named president of CSN, then known as Clark County Community College, in 1983. He served in that role until 1994 and went on to teach at UNLV for nine years.

“Dr. Meacham was a giant in CSN’s past who changed the lives of thousands of college students. His legacy will continue to shape the college and the state of Nevada for generations to come,” CSN President Frederico Zaragoza said.

Nevada also said goodbye to longtime Elvis impressionist Trent Carlini and aviation pioneer Marie McMillan.

Carlini, a renowned Elvis Presley tribute artist who performed at several Las Vegas resorts dating to the early 1990s, died Dec. 8. He was 57.

The Chicago native opened his Las Vegas stage career in 1990 in “Legends in Concert” at Imperial Palace and also performed at Shimmer Cabaret at Las Vegas Hilton, the since-imploded Boardwalk and Riviera, the Sahara, Steve Wyrick Theater (now Saxe Theater) at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, and Hooters, where his stage show “The King” closed in January 2017.

McMillan, who died March 24 in Las Vegas at age 92, received her private pilot license at age 44 and went on to set 328 U.S. aviation records and 328 world records, according to her family obituary.

“Just about anything having to do with aviation, she was there,” said T.D. Barnes, director of the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame, where McMillan was among the first inductees in 2010.

Here is a look at some of the other notable figures who died in 2019.

Government and politics

Former Clark County District Attorney George Dickerson died Feb. 15 at his home in Maine. He was 96.

“I think he’s a man that sought fairness and justice for all,” Michael Dickerson, his grandson and Clark County chief deputy district attorney, said at the time of his grandfather’s death. “It’s something that he believed in with all his might.”

George Dickerson, the son of a Nevada governor who served from 1909-1911, began his career as a deputy district attorney, serving for four years before he was elected Clark County district attorney in 1954.

Bob Price, a longtime Democratic assemblyman from North Las Vegas, died of a heart attack Jan. 4 at age 82 in Sparks, where he and his wife had retired.

Price served 28 years in the the Nevada Assembly from 1974 to 2002. He was one of just 11 people to serve that long.

Mark Alden , who served for 17 years on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, died Jan. 17 at age 74. Alden also worked as a forensic accountant specializing in white-collar crime investigations and also served on the Nevada State Bar Fee Dispute Arbitration Committee and as an auditor for the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Fourth-generation Nevadan Richard Bunker, whose career included positions as head of the Nevada Resort Association, Gaming Control Board and Colorado River Commission of Nevada, died March 17 at age 85.

Bunker’s civic career included stints as an assistant city manager for Las Vegas, working his way up to deputy city manager and later becoming Clark County manager. Bunker also held positions in the private sector, becoming treasurer of Circus Circus, then president of the Dunes hotel-casino and, in 1986, an executive of the Aladdin hotel-casino.

Joseph Yablonsky, the controversial and outspoken former head of the FBI’s Las Vegas field office, died May 21 in Florida, his daughter said. He was 90.

The self-proclaimed “King of Sting” and so-called father of undercover operations at the FBI, Yablonsky was sent to Las Vegas in 1980. Yablonsky will be remembered for efforts that began in 1980 after Mustang Ranch brothel owner Joe Conforte, on the lam outside the country following his conviction for tax evasion, made a deal with prosecutors in exchange for information on officials he said he had bribed, including U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne. Conforte’s allegations led to the first impeachment of a federal judge in 50 years, with Claiborne convicted of two counts of filing false tax returns.

Business and entertainment

Hilton Hotels leader and philanthropist Barron Hilton played an influential role in Las Vegas gaming history, helping to bring “real legitimacy” to the industry on Wall Street, a retired company executive said. Hilton died Sept. 19 at age 91 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles.

“His father started the hotel business, but the gaming part of the company was something that Barron really took ownership of and really felt was his,” said Nashville, Tennessee-area resident Marc Grossman, a former vice president for Hilton Hotels Corp.

Billionaire Meshulam Riklis, who was a fixture on the Strip while owner of the Riviera, died Jan. 25 at a Tel Aviv hospital. Riklis was 95. The man was famous as entertainer Pia Zadora’s first husband and as the owner of the Riv in during its heyday in the 1980s through the early 1990s.

Riklis brought the groundbreaking production shows “Splash,” “Crazy Girls” and “Evening at La Cage” to the Strip. He also bankrolled “G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” a syndicated TV show starring female pro wrestlers.

Sammy Shore, a comic who opened for Elvis Presley in Las Vegas and co-founded the Comedy Store in Hollywood, died May 18 in Las Vegas at 92.

Georges LaForge, owner of the Las Vegas landmark Pamplemousse le Restaurant, died March 24 of liver cancer and other ailments. He was 82.

John Knott , a longtime Las Vegas real estate broker with CBRE Group who sold several well-known properties on or near the Strip, died Aug. 15 of cancer at age 62.

In the past few years alone, Knott brokered the sales of the Allegiant Stadium site, the Hard Rock Hotel, the shuttered Lucky Dragon and the former Alon casino site next to Fashion Show mall.

Patti Shock, a longtime Southern Nevada hospitality educator, died Nov. 22 at age 78. Shock was a professor in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV for 25 years and is credited with elevating the study of hospitality and the meeting and events industry into academia.

Sports

Former UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers, who led the Rebels to their most recent postseason appearance, died Oct. 27 at age 54.

Chambers coached the Rebels to a 157-132 record between 2011 and 2015. UNLV won the Mountain West regular-season championship in 2014 and advanced to the NCAA regional in Corvallis, Oregon. Chambers was named conference Coach of the Year that season.

Mike Thomas, one of the greatest running backs in UNLV football history, whose career rushing record stood for almost four decades, died Aug. 23 in Houston at age 66 after a long illness.

Thomas was the Rebels’ only two-time first-team All-American, leading the nation in 1973 with 1,741 yards rushing and setting a school record of 20 rushing touchdowns. As a senior the following season, he rushed for 1,408 yards and 17 TDs.

Julia Ruth Stevens, the last surviving daughter of baseball legend Babe Ruth, died March 9 in a Henderson assisted care facility at age 102. She was 12 when George Herman Ruth adopted her after marrying her mother in 1929.

Others in the local sports world who died this year include Cleveland Edwards, an assistant men’s basketball coach on UNLV’s national championship team who was inducted into the UNLV’s Athletics Hall of Fame, LeAnn (Kasmer) Golembiewski, who was a former two-sport standout at UNLV in basketball and track; Rick Down, a longtime Major League Baseball hitting coach and Keith Kleven, a physical therapist to local sports stars, including Tiger Woods, Greg Maddux, Mike Tyson and Andre Agassi.

Military

Lt. Col. Henry “Hank” Buttelmann earned a Congressional Gold Medal and was the youngest “ace” in the Korean War.

The 27-year Air Force veteran, a resident of Las Vegas for more than 30 years, died Sept. 16 in Frankfort, Illinois, where he moved with his wife in 2018. He was 90. A Silver Star recipient, Buttelmann earned the title of youngest Korean War ace — a pilot who shoots down five enemy planes — at age 24.

Media and communications

Andrea “Ande” Engleman, a former newswoman and longtime fixture in Nevada media, who, as executive director of Nevada Press Association, was a strong advocate for open government and press freedom in the state, died of cancer June 12 at her home in Carson City. She was 79.

Her work for the Nevada Press Association from the mid-1980s to late 1990s made lasting contributions to the state’s media landscape, lobbying the Legislature for improved open meeting and public records laws and greater access to public information.

Dave Palermo, a longtime Las Vegas-based journalist, died July 30 at age 71. Palermo worked for 13 newspapers, including the Review-Journal, and several gaming publications;

Veteran Nevada journalist Dennis Myers died Aug. 26 at age 70. His resume included two decades as news editor of the weekly Reno News and Review, stints at two Reno television stations and bylines in several publications, including the Las Vegas Business Press and the Pahrump Valley Times.

Rob Powers, who died July 31 at age 61, was a former vice president of community relations at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a former vice president of R&R Partners, press secretary for former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller and a former reporter at both the Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun. He also worked as a spokesman for the Agassi Foundation.

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