Sen. William J. Raggio was memorialized at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Reno by more than 1,500 statesmen, friends and relatives who shared stories of a life that clearly made a difference in Nevada.
Raggio, who died at 85 while on vacation with his wife, Dale, in Sydney, Australia of reported respiratory illness, was the longest-serving member in the history of the state Senate. He represented Washoe County’s 3rd district from 1972 until he retired in 2011.
The widely respected Republican from Reno was dedicated to “God, his family and every Nevadan he ever met,” Monsignor Leo McFadden said.
“The senator’s middle name was Nevada,” he told the crowd toward the end of the nearly two-hour funeral Mass.
Eulogies were given by Raggio’s daughter Leslie Raggio Righetti, former Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Raymond C. Avansino, Jr. He was also given military honors with a gun salute and flag presentation before the entire congregation joined in singing the state song, “Home Means Nevada.”
Sandoval, a Republican, and Bryan, a Democrat who also served in the U.S. Senate, were among those who eulogized Raggio as a statesman and champion of education who took pride in doing what was right for the state.
“A man of the people who lived his life for the people,” Sandoval said. He said his former law partner and colleague had a rare mix of “courage, conviction and kindness” and could “light up a room with dignity, class and the common touch.”
“His impact has touched every man, woman and child in Nevada and it will be felt for generations,” Sandoval said.
Bryan, who served in the legislature with Raggio, said he often used humor to help diffuse tense situations.
Raggio became a Washoe County assistant district attorney in 1952, a year after receiving his law degree. His political career was launched six years later when he was elected the county’s top prosecutor. Raggio took on Nevada brothel boss Joe Conforte, and in 1959, had Conforte’s Triangle River Ranch burned to the ground as a public nuisance.
In recent years, Raggio had become increasingly vocal against the hardline, no-tax stance of the conservative right. In 2010, he endorsed Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid against Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle.
“He understood the importance of compromise and that legislation is the art of the possible,” Bryan said. “Unfortunately, not everybody today appreciates that.”
Avansino Jr., a longtime friend, said Raggio was generous and caring.
“He was a respected leader but also a respectful listener ... a great symbol of integrity, wit and wisdom,” said Avansino, who added that he couldn’t help sharing what Raggio would say when he asked him why he attended so many funerals:
“’I always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to mine,’” Avansino recalled. “Well Bill, we’ve got a full house.”
Pallbearers included Michael G. Alonso, Donald L. Carano, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Gregory W. Ferraro, Paul W. Lowden, Johnathan “Jolly” William, state Sen. Randolph J. Townsend and Anthony Alton William Woodring.
Raggio’s daughter moved the crowd by ringing a coffee cup with a spoon, an inside joke that brought many in the crowd to cheer for their dearly remembered friend. The late Sen. Raggio often used this coffee-clattering tactic to grab attention, his daughter said.
“He loved Nevada,” Righetti said. He often said he wanted to capture the rain from California to green up his home state.
“Bill was the rain,” Righetti said. “He made it a greener place for all of us.”
David Humke, a current Washoe County commissioner, served in the state Assembly with Raggio in the late 1970s. One night, the two were enjoying an evening at the Ormsby House, across Carson Street from the legislative complex, when Raggio tried to pull one of his ongoing jokes.
“He said to me, ‘Hey I’ve forgotten my wallet, could you loan me 20 bucks?’ ” Humke remembered. “I reached back for mine and I said, ‘Doggone it I’ve forgotten mine too!’ So he didn’t get me.”
State Sen. Maggie Carlton of District 14 said while she served in the state Senate for 12 years with Raggio, she remembered everyone would duck as soon as he would get out a gavel “because he used to smack the gavel super, super hard.”
“His biggest legacy for Nevada is that he treated everyone as equals. I was in the minority and I always called him No. 1, he called me No. 21. He always treated everyone very well.”
Scott Sonner of the Associated Press contributed to this report.