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RIP Jim Rogers

In a world where journalism is under increasing pressure to generate revenue, Jim Rogers was an anomaly.

Rogers, the owner of KSNV Channel 3 here in Las Vegas, gave up his rights to many of the most popular TV shows ever, including “Days of Our Lives,” “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” as part of his plan to air more news programming on his NBC-affiliate station. He told me once it was his plan to have local news run on his station for most of the day and rid himself of all his syndicated programming. One of his innovations especially stood out to me: a segment all about books and their authors, hosted by his wife, Beverly Rogers. Where else on the dial but C-SPAN would you see that?

From a business standpoint, it was crazy. But from the standpoint people who grew up reading and watching local news, talking about ideas and their authors, it was impossible not to cheer for him, even if he was a competitor. (The station for which I work part-time doing political analysis, 8NewsNow, picked up “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”)

But now, Rogers is gone, succumbing to a long battle with cancer on Saturday. The garrulous, perfectionist continued to work right up until the very end, hosting an interview show that included so many of the community’s leading figures. Rogers’s interview segments cast a net so wide, he even once interviewed me. No word on how much ratings suffered as a result.

Over his life, Rogers was known for many things. He was known for his philanthropy, donating huge sums to colleges in Nevada and elsewhere. He was known for taking the job as chancellor of what’s now the Nevada System of Higher Education, and leading it at a very critical time. And he was known as the hard-charging, Western-loving, car-collecting, crusading TV station owner whose post-public career was characterized by a say-anything presence on Twitter.

I will always remember him as one of those rare individuals who didn’t care to be flattered, who valued plainspoken intellectual honesty and who loved a good debate. An interview with Rogers was always fun, because you never knew where it would end up.

That was true even when you disagreed with him, as I did rather sharply when he forced then-UNLV President Carol Harter to resign her record-setting 11-year tenure. Later, the two would team up on university funding issues, and Rogers would donate $10 million to what’s now called the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute. And even long after he’d distinguished himself as chancellor and left the job, he’d remind me of a long-ago Review-Journal editorial board interview where I’d questioned whether his law degree was sufficient academic pedigree to lead the state’s higher education system. (For the record, I freely acknowledge he did the job in a way no other person in the valley ever could.)

I will miss Rogers — and, whether the community knows it or not yet, Las Vegas will miss Rogers — for his commitments to education and an informed electorate. If you believe that the more reporters, the more airtime, devoted to discussion and illumination of local topics, the better our city will be, then Jim Rogers was a hero, and his passing is a terrible loss.

News of his passing elicited an outpouring of remembrances from top officials. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Jim and I were contemporaries while practicing law, and what a terrific lawyer he was. And his talents were not limited to law. What he has done in the communications world is record setting, and not just in Nevada but in the western United States. What he has done in education is superb. His philanthropic endeavors are unsurpassed in the state of Nevada. He was my friend and his friendship to me I will always remember.”
  • Governor Brian Sandoval: “With the passing of Jim Rogers, Nevada has lost one of its most outspoken and fearless advocates. Jim was nationally recognized as a successful philanthropist and business leader. In the State of Nevada, he was so much more. Jim dedicated his time and resources to advancing our education system and as chancellor of higher education, was fierce in his commitment to make sure our students had the resources they needed to succeed. Jim’s legacy will live on in the many lives he touched throughout his truly remarkable career. Kathleen and I send our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Beverly and his family and friends in this time of mourning.”
  • Rep. Steven Horsford: “Jim Rogers was a tireless advocate for quality schools in a state that desperately needed an outspoken champion of education. As chancellor and beyond, he demonstrated a unending commitment to improving the lives of students and children in Nevada. The depth of his charity was unmatched. Jim told the Las Vegas Sun that he had ‘one shot going through this life. I want to make sure I do as much as I can.’ There is no doubt that he surpassed even his highest expectations. He had a huge impact on Nevada, and he will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Beverly and his children.”
  • Rep. Dina Titus: “Jim Rogers had no fear. His business acumen, philanthropic generosity, and ferocious passion for learning made him a true game changer. He started the conversation, directed the dialogue, and produced results that propelled Nevada, sometimes kicking and screaming, toward a brighter future.”
  • Former Gov. Bob Miller: “Jim received a lifetime achievement award for public service a few weeks ago. While he was too weak to stand, when he accepted the award from his seat he fearlessly advocated that we as community needed to be doing more for education.

    “Jim Rogers was the exemplary role model for giving back to the community. His particular passion and devotion to education, specifically his unmatched generosity and resolute attention for higher education, is a legacy that will be a challenge for us all to live up to. He advocated on behalf of others, not himself. He was tireless in improving opportunities for everyone through education – not just in Nevada, but everywhere. He served with distinction and without expectation of any gain as Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. He was a champion for those that did not have a voice.

    “By losing Jim, we in Nevada have lost one of our most vocal leaders for increasing education opportunities. It will be difficult to imagine any other person having done so much for so many. My family and I have frequently sought Jim’s guidance. He even took time out of his busy schedule to help advise my daughter, Megan, on where she should go to law school. While I have lost a personal friend, Nevada has lost its most passionate advocate. My family expresses condolences for his wife, Beverly, his children, Suzanne Rogers Plant, Kimberly Rogers Cell, and Perry Rogers, and his grandchildren.”

  • Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page: “Jim was an outstanding advocate for higher education and a great friend. Jim was a distinguished Nevadan in every sense. He made it his personal mission to fight for higher education funding when he was chancellor and continued that work after he returned to the private sector. Improving Nevada’s education system was Jim’s way of giving back to the community.”

  • University Chancellor Dan Klaich: “Jim was a close friend from the day we met, a mentor until our last conversation, and a truly remarkable and unique human being. While some may have found Jim challenging to work with, we enjoyed working together. Jim abhorred mediocrity and loved this state with every fiber of his being. That is a legacy each of us should try and live up to.”

  • Interim UNLV President Don Snyder: “Jim Rogers was passionate about education because he knew an investment in education was an investment in the future. The university and higher education have lost a friend and an advocate. We are grateful for his support and dedication over the years. Our thoughts go out to his wife Beverly and the family.

    “Jim was one of the first individuals I met when arriving in Nevada more than 25 years ago. We partnered on numerous community projects including UNLV’s first-ever comprehensive capital campaign. We spoke Friday and celebrated a long history of mutual respect and collaboration. It was an honor to know Jim and call him my friend.”

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