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by U.S. Senator Dean Heller
A Tribute to Senator Laxalt
At the beginning of August, we lost one of the great Nevadans of our lifetime, our former governor and senator, Paul Laxalt.
Paul epitomized the very best Nevada has to offer by putting public service above self and serving as a close confidant to many Nevadans, including myself. I am lucky to have considered Paul a friend and to have learned from his advice throughout the years. The state motto in Nevada is, “all for our country,” and he certainly exemplified that sentiment every day through his decades of public service and his deep commitment to friendships.
Born in 1922, Paul grew up in my hometown of Carson City, Nevada. His parents had both immigrated from the Basque region in Europe and with them they brought rich values and traditions to Northern Nevada. Paul made his mark early in life by attending Carson City High School, playing on the 1938 state championship basketball team and serving as the student body president.
Paul later served his country in the U.S. Army as a medic during World War II. He also went on to serve as district attorney, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Senator, as well as Governor of the state of Nevada in 1967.
Nevada quickly began to grow under Governor Laxalt. He not only helped establish the community college system and the first medical school in Nevada, Governor Laxalt also developed the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and transformed the gaming industry into the prosperous tourist attraction that we know it to be today.
It was during his time as governor that Paul became friends with another famous governor in neighboring California — Ronald Reagan. Together, they worked to protect and preserve Lake Tahoe for future generations. Later serving as Reagan’s presidential campaign chairman, Paul was famously called “the first friend” of the President. Together, they helped each other set our country down a new path of prosperity and freedom.
Paul was a hero and mentor to me and many others who grew up in Carson City. Like him, my mother, my children and I also went to Carson High School where I played on the basketball team and my daughter, Emmy, was the student body president, following in Paul’s shoes.
Before my daughter Emmy took office, she reached out to previous Carson High School student body presidents to ask for their advice.
Paul Laxalt was gracious and told her the following: “When I was elected as student body president, Franklin Roosevelt was the President of the United States. With World War II looming on the horizon, my fellow classmates and I had no idea how dramatically our lives would be altered in the next few years. Of course, the school itself was much different. I doubt that there were more than 30 students in my entire class. Until my senior year, all classes – K through 12 – were in the same building!” He then said: “I'm not entirely comfortable offering advice, particularly to someone who knows more than me! I would just tell you to have fun and enjoy every single day, remember those who elected you and always do what you – Emmy Heller – think is right.” I know Emmy has never forgotten that advice.
Paul set a high bar for all of the kids who went to Carson High School, and he showed us all the possibilities of what could be achieved as Nevadans. When I was sworn in as a freshman member in the House of Representatives, Paul was there for me on day one. I’ll never forget his support, and his advice - always stay close to family, friends, and your constituents. They will never leave you astray. Having been a presidential campaign advisor to President Reagan, President Bush, and Senator Dole, his guidance carried great weight, and I knew I needed to listen to every piece of advice that he was willing to give me.
He also had a profound impact on many of my colleagues in Washington, D.C. in the United States Senate. It didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or Republican, Senator Laxalt would be your friend. His moral character and warm personality which he chose to share with us will never be forgotten.
I extend my deepest condolences to Paul’s wife, Carol, and to their entire family during this time.
I was proud to have the opportunity to introduce a resolution honoring Paul Laxalt’s life. It was co-sponsored by every member of the U.S. Senate and it unanimously passed the chamber. I will miss my mentor and friend, Paul Laxalt. His former colleagues in the U.S. Senate will miss their teammate. And the people of Nevada will miss their leader.