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Tyrone Thompson, Nevada assemblyman, dies suddenly at 51

Updated May 4, 2019 - 4:57 pm

CARSON CITY — Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, a champion for education and homelessness initiatives, died Saturday morning in Carson City. The North Las Vegas lawmaker took ill in the capital midweek. He was 51.

No cause of death has been released. Thompson was at work in the Legislature on Wednesday, testifying in committee and appearing on the floor. He did not appear in committees on Thursday and was excused from session on Friday. His sudden death shocked colleagues in the Legislature and others who had worked with him over more than 25 years of public and community service.

“We are deeply saddened by Assemblyman Thompson’s sudden passing,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said in a statement released early Saturday. “He was well respected by his colleagues in the Legislature for his dedication and leadership. His warm smile and larger-than-life presence will truly be missed in our Assembly chamber. We ask that you respect the privacy of his family at this difficult time.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak said that he will be ordering the flags to half-staff to honor Thompson.

“I am heartbroken by the unexpected passing of Assemblyman Thompson,” Sisolak said in a statement. “He spent his career in service to others, and dedicated his life to lifting up and protecting the most vulnerable in our community. They say that no man stands so tall as when he stoops to help another, and Assemblyman Thompson stood larger-than-life because of his selfless service to his fellow Nevadans.”

Thompson was appointed to the 17th District seat from North Las Vegas in 2013 and was serving his third elected term. He was chairman of the Assembly Education committee. The Democratic Assembly caucus said he had worked on legislation to improve educational opportunities for students and services at state-funded family resource centers, expand access to HIV testing, and end employment discrimination against those with criminal records.

Tireless advocate

Before his time in the Legislature, the North Las Vegas native had worked with the Clark County Organizational Development Center, the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition and the city of Las Vegas. He volunteered in numerous community causes and had worked on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster care system as a court-appointed special advocate for more than 17 years.

Thompson leaves behind a legacy of “making sure that our children and our youth in our community really are able to reach their greatest potential,” said Thompson’s longtime friend, Lisa Morris Hibbler.

Hibbler, director of Youth Development & Social Innovation for the city of Las Vegas, met Thompson more than 20 years ago when the two were working in community outreach in West Las Vegas. Thompson’s passion for his community, especially the youth, was evident even back then, Hibbler said. And that passion never wavered as his influence grew.

“He wanted to be that change agent. Selfless,” Hibbler said.

As a lawmaker, that passion continue to show through the legislation he championed, including his 2017 bill that created the Nevada Advisory Commission on Mentoring, aimed at strengthening and expanding mentoring organizations in Nevada.

“He gave a voice to our most vulnerable students,” said Michael Flores, who serves as the chair of the mentoring commission.

Thompson became known for his willingness to take on some of the hardest issues facing the state, including homeless youth and graduation rates for students of color, without fear or pause.

“He did not care about the political backlash of bringing up these issues. He cared about what was right,” said Flores, who works as chief of staff for the Nevada System of Higher Education and founded the nonprofit Nevada Youth Network that helps mentor students through after school activities.

“There’s not enough Tyrones out there,” Flores added.

Praise from colleagues, community

The Clark County Democratic Party shared the news of Thompson’s death on Twitter, calling him a “friend to all and powerful force for change in our community.”

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, said in a statement that she met Thompson “lobbying as a mom in 2015,” and the two quickly became friends.

“We immediately hit it off and developed our friendship even further over the years as we served together. He was compassionate and passionate in all he set his heart and mind to do. His ability to inspire others was evident by the testimony of those whose lives he influenced. This is a tremendous loss in our state and lives.”

The ACLU of Nevada called Thompson a “true leader in the fight for liberty.”

“His dedication to homeless youth, preventing employment discrimination against those with criminal convictions, and ending the school to prison pipeline is unmatched,” the organization said in a statement. “He was an outstanding leader and will be sorely missed.”

Thompson’s colleagues in the Assembly expressed heartbreak over Thompson’s death and offered condolences on Twitter Saturday morning.

Messages of condolence and grief poured in Saturday as news spread of Thompson’s death.

“Assemblyman Thompson was a passionate and kind soul with a radiant smile who could always fill a room with his warmth,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said in a statement from Senate Democrats. “There is no one who fought more tirelessly for Nevada’s students, teachers, and children, both legislatively and in his work mentoring youth. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and our colleagues in the Assembly. Tyrone will be greatly missed by all who knew him and we mourn his loss.”

A statement from Senate Republicans called Thompson a “tireless advocate for education and the community at large. His efforts to provide mentors and role models to the community’s youth were unmatched – he was the best mentor among them.”

And Assembly Republicans called him “a passionate champion of children from all walks of life; especially those who struggled without a home and those in foster care.”

“Assemblyman Thompson was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever had the honor to serve with in the Assembly,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Minden. “I cannot begin to express what a loss this is for our state.”

Legacy of enhancing quality of life

Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mary Beth Sewald said the group paid tribute to Thompson’s “legacy of enhancing the quality of life in Southern Nevada.”

“He worked to build consensus and find solutions to some of our biggest challenges such as education, homelessness, and recidivism, and he was actively involved in the Southern Nevada Forum from its inception,” she said. “We valued his passion and collaboration with the Chamber on a variety of issues impacting our businesses and community.”

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly echoed many, saying he was “shocked and saddened” at the news.

“Assemblyman Thompson was a selfless advocate for Nevada’s public higher education system and most especially our students. Tyrone was a tremendous leader and a friend,” he said in a statement. “We are shocked and saddened to learn of his passing. On behalf of the board of regents, the Nevada System of Higher Education and our eight institutions, I want to express our sympathies to Tyrone’s family. This is a tremendous loss.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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