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Former Clark County Commissioner Myrna Williams dies at 92

Updated December 28, 2021 - 4:31 pm

Myrna Williams, who advocated for women, the homeless and the poor during more than two decades in state and local politics, has died. She was 92.

Williams died peacefully at her home in Henderson on Monday night, according to former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly.

“She was one of the good ones,” said Reilly, who was close with Williams and had been in constant contact with her over the years as her power of attorney and the executor of her estate.

Reilly, who knew Williams since the late 1980s, said her mind remained sharp until her passing, but her health had declined over the past several months.

“She told me she was ready to go,” he said.

Reilly said he will remember Williams as “a longstanding champion of the poor,” who had a deep affection for child welfare and was a fixture in the Nevada Legislature and Clark County Commission.

She was one of the founders of The Children’s Attorneys Project, ensuring that every child in the foster care system in Nevada had legal representation. She also remained attuned to local and state affairs until her death.

“She was no nonsense,” he said. “You always knew where you stood with Myrna.”

Fair share, Family Court champion

She took a leadership role in guiding “fair share” bills through the 1989 and 1991 Legislatures, which redistributed sales taxes so Southern Nevada received its fair share instead of continuing to ship millions in taxes to Northern Nevada. She helped in the push to raise gaming taxes in 1987 and 1989, and she opposed placing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

To help families, Williams worked to change child support formulas and, as a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and pushed to create Clark County Family Court, which opened in 1993. Before the court’s creation, all judges heard Family Court cases, and some were better at the specialty than others.

“There was not too much controversy; the issue was getting the funding,” Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan told Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Jane Ann Morrison in 2015. “She was instrumental in getting the financing.”

The court created the Pillar Award to honor Williams and named her the first recipient.

Famous brother

Williams was born Aug. 26, 1929, in Chicago into a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her father, William, was a child dancer in Russia who had taken lessons from ballet master Vaslav Nijinsky and won many contests. He came to America at age 11.

In 1934, at age 5, Williams enrolled with her brother, Mel Torme, who was four years her senior, in Chicago’s Shakespeare Grammar School on the city’s South Side. Torme would become a successful musician, singer and actor who performed in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack and whose silky voice earned him the nickname “The Velvet Fog.”

In 1947, following her 18th birthday, Williams moved to New York to pursue art or modeling. Six years later, she met musician David Williams, the man she’d marry. They stayed married for more than 50 years, until his death in January 2006.

Williams moved to Las Vegas in 1959, where her husband was fulfilling a professional engagement. She earned degrees in law enforcement and social work from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and entered politics.

Long political career

In 1984, at age 55, she was elected to the Nevada Assembly as a Democrat. She represented Clark County District 10 until 1995 and spent six years as speaker pro tem.

“She was a wonderful steady force and I never saw her lose her temper, and she was wise,” said former Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin, who served with Williams as freshmen together in the state Assembly.

Coffin fondly recalled that Williams had poor eyesight and often did not make return trips from Carson City to Las Vegas — when she did, she took the bus — so the two then-lawmakers would watch movies together in an Assembly common room.

“She was fearless,” he said, “a common-sense liberal.”

In 1994, representing District E, she won election as a Clark County commissioner, earning re-election in 1998 and 2002. In her dozen years on the commission, she served on committees including the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects.

Former Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, a Republican, who served with Williams during his nearly three-decade tenure on the board, said they collaborated on a number of issues despite coming from different political parties and perspectives.

He said Williams had a “unique personality,” a deep-voiced lawmaker who could come across gruff but who was a kind and compassionate person beneath the surface.

“She cared deeply about the community and the people she represented,” he said. “She loved public office.”

“It’s a sad day for Clark County and the state of Nevada,” County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “Myrna Torme Williams was a dedicated public servant known for her intelligence, care and concern for working families and her love and passion for Las Vegas.”

On Twitter, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said Williams “was a voice with determination, style & passion.”

She was defeated for re-election to her commission seat in the 2006 primary election.

Two days before the 2006 general election, Chris Giunchigliani, Williams’ Democratic primary challenger for Clark County Commission, presented a political mailer suggesting Williams should have known about a corruption investigation, dubbed “Operation G-Sting,” involving several fellow commissioners.

Former commissioners Erin Kenny, Dario Herrera, Mary Kincaid-Chauncey and Lance Malone were all indicted by the FBI in a bribery scandal connected to strip club owner Michael Galardi.

There was no evidence that Williams was investigated or targeted in the FBI corruption probe, or that she was aware of the bribery scandal while it was occurring.

Williams is survived by her grandson. Her daughter, Indy Williams Sheldon, died in 2020.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 5 at King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery, according to Reilly. He said that donations are being requested in Williams’ memory to the Public Education Foundation, where she had been a longtime board member.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Former Review-Journal staff writer Matthew Crowley contributed to this story.

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