Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007 | 7:02 a.m.
UNLV history professor Hal Rothman, a respected author on Western and environmental history, the National Parks System and tourism, died Sunday at his home. He was 48.
Rothman's wife, Lauralee, 44, said he died Sunday night because of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease.
"He faced it like he faced everything in life, and he took it on," she said. "But I'm not sorry he's out of the pain and suffering. It was very difficult for him at the end."
Rothman is among the best known figures borne of the Nevada System of Higher Education. His TV appearances include interviews on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and PBS. He wrote or edited 17 books.
More so than in his other books, Rothman interjected personal experience into "Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century" (2002). The result is a mix of theory and anecdote that entertains as it educates.
Rothman also wrote guest columns for newspapers around the country and was a weekly columnist for the Las Vegas Sun.
Lou Gehrig's disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The illness destroys connections between a healthy brain and the voluntary muscles of the body. In essence, the brain remains alert and functioning, but dead are all the ways the person might have had to express himself.
Rothman's first shoulder-muscle twinge came in summer 2005. His diagnosis was confirmed that December and by late last fall, Rothman had lost even his slurred speech.
Lauralee Rothman said her husband did everything he could to stay active, even acting as an expert witness in an environmental case.
"He insisted that he stay in the game, so he had two attorneys from Denver come and a court reporter and a stenographer and they took his deposition right in our house," she said.
She also said that Rothman had decided that he would never go on a respirator when his ability to breathe on his own failed. "Hal was such a doer, and he didn't want to prolong the life that he wouldn't be able to participate in," she said.
Toward the end, after he lost the ability to blink as an answer to a yes-or-no question, she said she felt she could intuit what he wanted. She laughs when she knows that guess was a bit off.
"Sometimes he'd want the TV channel changed, and I'd be wiping his forehead," she said.
When honored last October as the Chin's Humanitarian of the Year by the Southern Nevada chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Rothman prepared a speech about Las Vegas and his family.
"I have sought to explain our wacky city and state to an often skeptical and sometimes incredulous national and international audience," he wrote. "Las Vegas not only became our home but also a city I love with all my heart. I hope I have represented us well."
He also told people to look to his wife, not himself, when considering courage.
"She has already shouldered a greater burden for me than any human being should have to for another," he said. "She has never wavered in a situation that would devour even the strongest of people."
A friend for 20 years and fellow historian, Char Miller of Trinity University in San Antonio said Rothman's academic contributions in the fields of Western, environmental and urban history were profound.
"He changed the way we thought about things we thought we knew about: tourism, urban development, the power of the West as a cultural motif in American history," Miller said.
Rothman is survived by his wife; two children, Talia and Brent; parents Neal and Rozann Rothman of Indianapolis; sisters Elaine Rothman-Tang of Paris and Ann Wise of Cincinnati.
A funeral will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Palm Mortuary at Eastern Avenue and Robindale Road. The UNLV history department is also planning a memorial service for some time in March. Details are yet to be worked out.