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Too few good men

Lately it seems as if we’re losing too many of the good ones.

It started in 2004, with the death of former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, a man who exuded leadership and respect. One of the state’s most popular elected leaders turned newspaper columnist, O’Callaghan was still a must-see person for any Democrat thinking of running for office, and a longtime mentor and adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Then, in 2010, former Gov. Kenny Guinn died after a fall from his roof, where he was clearing leaves. Guinn combined policy-wonk depth of knowledge with a gregarious personality, and he saw the state through the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His funeral filled the cavernous St. Joseph Husband of Mary Catholic Church to capacity.

One of Guinn’s eulogists — former state Sen. Bill Raggio — was the next to go, in 2012, a passing made all the sadder because Raggio had once asked Guinn to offer remarks at Raggio’s funeral. It was another packed house for a man whose knowledge of Nevada, its legislative process and his beloved North was unequaled. Term limits will ensure that Raggio remains the longest-serving state senator in Nevada history.

Former state Public Defender J.J. Jackson died in February. He wasn’t as well-known as the others, but those who did know him (including me) still miss him deeply and at unexpected times. His career as an attorney and legislative lobbyist earned him many friends and much respect.

And now, two more have joined the list. Lionel, Sawyer &Collins gaming attorney Bob Faiss, a man who literally wrote the book on the laws governing casinos in this state, was the nicest, most decent man most of us could ever hope to meet. Faiss was a quiet, thoughtful person who nonetheless influenced thousands of people in Nevada and around the world.

Last week brought news that KSNV-Channel 3 owner, philanthropist and media pioneer Jim Rogers had joined the ranks of the too-soon-passed, following a long battle with cancer. Rogers had, toward the end of his life, expanded on his longtime commitment to providing local news reporting by excising syndicated programs in favor of more news.

One thing linking all these men was education. They all believed in it, whether by serving as a teacher (O’Callaghan, Faiss) or administrator (Guinn was Clark County superintendent of schools, Rogers served as university chancellor), or by donating time or political skill to the cause. Raggio was a key supporter of higher education in the state, Jackson was an advocate for the Nevada State Education Association, and Rogers donated millions to universities. All of them realized that education was the key to improving the lives of kids growing up in Nevada, as well as the best way to make the state a better place. And every one of them lived up to that belief with action.

The void left by the deaths of these great people — and many more men and women who worked to make the state better — is a big one. There likely will never be another O’Callaghan, another Raggio, another Faiss. We’re poorer without the patient advocacy of Guinn and Jackson or the hard-charging editorializing of Rogers. If we’re to keep moving forward, we need to heed their examples now more than ever.

None of these men was known for a rigid, inflexible ideology, and all in their own way knew the value of compromise and the importance of even incremental progress. All were pragmatic in outlook but had incredible values that drove them to do great things in the service of other people. None were braggarts, although they all had unmatched accomplishments.

But these great men are gone now, leaving behind only their cherished memories and examples that challenge us to follow. We who care about this state, its people, and its future reposed in the dreams of its children, must rise to meet their example and carry forward their legacy.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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