Updated October 26, 2023 - 5:47 pm
Harvey Munford, a revered former Nevada assemblyman and veteran educator who helped shape generations of local children, died early Thursday at the age of 83.
“My father lived an extraordinary life,” his son, Stephen Munford, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
About a year ago, the city of Las Vegas cemented his legacy by renaming Sunny Place, the road he’d lived on for decades, after him.
During a sunny November day ceremony, Harvey Munford grew emotional as officials unveiled the sign for Harvey Munford Street, which is tucked in a Historic Westside neighborhood.
The recognition was just one accolade in a long list of accomplishments for the Nevada fixture, who grew up during a time when racial segregation existed, then worked through the post-civil rights era into a lengthy career as an educator and six-term state assemblyman.
Nevada lawmakers took to social media Thursday to express their condolences.
“I’m so sorry to hear Assemblyman Harvey Munford has passed away,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., wrote. “Harvey was a true public servant. He poured his heart into everything that he did, whether it was teaching his students (including my sister), coaching, or fighting for Nevada families in the legislature.”
Las Vegas Councilman Cedric Crear, who’s running for mayor, was instrumental in the street renaming.
“Our community lost a gentle giant with the passing of former Nevada Assemblyman Harvey Munford,” he wrote. “Rest in Power Mr. Munford.”
Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, described Munford’s passing as “terrible news.”
State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, wrote that she was grateful for Munford’s lifetime of service.
“He gave so much to his community and to our state at #nvleg. Please keep the Munford family in your thoughts,” she said.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, who has served in the Legislature, posted a picture of both men posing with wide smiles at Munford’s home.
“He was an iconic figure in the community,” Ford wrote. “His legacy includes passing bills the require multicultural education in our schools and the work he and I did to require police to wear body cameras. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Munford, one of four siblings, was born in Ohio, where he became the first Black prom king in his high school’s history.
He stood a towering 6 feet, 8 inches tall and briefly played basketball at the University of Akron before being recruited to Montana State University to play basketball and later football. He became the first Black student to graduate there, with a major in biology and a minor in physical education.
Known as the fastest player on both teams, he was inducted into the university’s hall of fame as an All-American two-sport athlete. He briefly played for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Rams.
A career in education drew him to Las Vegas in the late 1960s. He said he fought through racial discrimination.
“A lot of times we just see the success, but we don’t see the struggle,” Stephen Munford said. “For him to persevere through all that and get to where he got to in life” spoke to his character.
‘Wanted to shape and, you know, mold the young people’
Munford taught and coached at K-12 schools and colleges for more than 30 years, with his longest tenures at Bonanza High School and the College of Southern Nevada.
“I enjoyed teaching because I wanted to shape and, you know, mold the young people,” Harvey Munford told the Review-Journal in 2022.
He is survived by two adult children from his first marriage, including son Stephen Munford, and Jamila Munford-Toliver.
In the 1990s, he met his second wife, Vivian Munford, who described the start of their relationship as love at first sight.
Munford operated a driving school, and he was her teacher, she said. “He’s a nice teacher,” she said. “He’s a very, very good person.”
Stephen Munford said his father was always there for him and his sister. Vivian Munford said that he also helped raise and put her kids, his stepchildren, through college.
“I grew up with a 24/7 teacher in my life, always teaching me how to be a good person, and always expecting the best from me,” Stephen Munford said. “He was very good to us — always a wealth of information.”
Stephen Munford said that almost every week he would run into someone his father affected, as a teacher, coach or as a lawmaker.
Now, as they learn of his passing, many of those people are reaching out to offer their condolences.