First to learn of the impending retirement of the state’s longest-serving senator were the members of his inner circle at the Jones Vargas law firm. Citing his health problems, mostly a loss of mobility because of a serious Achilles tendon injury, Raggio told the assemblage that it was time for a younger person to replace him for the strenuous upcoming session of the Nevada State Legislature.
To give a full account of Raggio’s resume would fill many pages of the Sparks Tribune. A Reno native who graduated from Reno High School and the University of Nevada, Reno he later got his law degree from Hastings Law School in the Bay Area. During World War II he spent two years in the the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve.
Returning to Reno with then-wife Dorothy he quickly was tapped to serve as an assistant district attorney for Washoe County by the D.A. Jack Streeter. In addition to serving under Streeter, Raggio spent another four years under D.A. Dyer Jensen before successfully running for his first term as district attorney in 1958. After three terms in office, during which time he received numerous national accolades, he was urged by President Richard Nixon to take a run at the U.S. Senate seat from Nevada, which at that time was held by Democrat Howard Cannon. Unfortunately, for Raggio’s supporters, he lost that race but, fortunately for Nevada, he was then able to gear up for his stellar career as a state senator, which began with his first election in 1972.
Everyone knows what he has accomplished in Carson City and probably the two best summations of his tenure were crafted by political reporter John Ralston, who dubbed him “The Sentinel of the North” and later, during the term of Democrat Gov. Bob Miller, Ralston quipped: “In Carson City, Gov. Bob Miller is playing checkers while Sen. Bill Raggio is playing chess.”
This writer first became acquainted with Raggio in 1957, when he represented me in a traffic incident. He prevailed in my favor with the help of famed San Francisco private detective, the late Hal Lipset. From that time on all three of us were involved in his district attorney campaigns as well as many community and social pursuits.
Probably the two most enduring tributes to Sen. Raggio are the education building that bears his name on the campus at UNR and the bust on display at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Creation of the Airport Authority is just one of the highlights of his political career.
What the average viewer does not see on the numerous television interviews of Raggio, mainly during legislative sessions, is his quick and droll sense of humor. That gift is best on display when he is called upon to speak at various occasions, both civic and social. Many years back, I was admiring the pride of lions that decorated a spot in his office. He had received the tiny copper statuettes of Leo every time he spoke at the Reno Lions club.
As a confidant of the highest members of the Republican party, the wall leading to his office is replete with photos of him with famous personages.
Like any true Nevadans, Raggio has been an outdoorsman all his life, specializing in hunting and fishing.
Many in the area have speculated that in leaving the senatorial post Raggio will kick back and live a more relaxed life. However, those who know him best say he will still be a very active lawyer and that his work ethic, which often sees him at his desk on Saturdays and Sundays, will never allow him that luxury. Close associates see him as becoming a sort of Barney Baruch, who will be on hand to advise and mentor up-and-coming members of his party. In that respect, he also has the admiration and genuine friendship of those outside the Republican fold.
It is unlikely that the Silver State will ever again see the likes of Raggio when it comes to statesmanship, leadership and overall political acumen.
Go Pack Day
At 6 p.m. Sunday the focus of the national sports world will be on the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco for the game between Nevada and Boston College. As the only football game on ESPN the viewing audience should be huge, as will the size of the Nevada fans in the stands.
Reams and reams have been written about this fine Nevada team that ranked nationally. The perfect topper would be a bowl victory for head coach Chris Ault.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.