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Hundreds honor former Gov. Kenny Guinn at funeral

Guinn eulogized as ‘great citizen of Nevada’

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The body of former Governor Kenny Guinn is carried into St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church before the start of funeral services, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Guinn passed away last Thursday while working on the roof of his Las Vegas home.

Updated Tuesday, July 27, 2010 | 1:47 p.m.

Gov. Kenny Guinn Funeral

The body of former Governor Kenny Guinn is carried into St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church before the start of funeral services, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Guinn passed away last Thursday while working on the roof of his Las Vegas home. Launch slideshow »

Former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn was remembered Tuesday as a common man with an uncommon sense of duty.

More than 1,200 people filled the pews at St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Catholic Church on West Sahara Avenue for the two-hour funeral Mass. Among them were family and friends, lawmakers and business leaders, former campaign workers and public employees. Republican Guinn was remembered as always putting the needs of the state above party politics, and expected others to do the same.

Six bagpipers and four drummers led the procession into the church. Clergy — including Bishop Joseph Pepe of the Diocese of Las Vegas — and pallbearers escorted Guinn’s casket, draped in a simple white cloth with a small gold cross. Former Nevada First Lady Dema Guinn, supported on either side sons Jeff and Steve and with a procession of family behind them, followed her husband’s casket to the front of the church.

Guinn, who served as Nevada’s governor from 1999 through 2006, died July 22. He was 73. The Guinns’ 54-year marriage was a testament to their love and faith in each other, said Pepe, who led the funeral Mass. And Kenny Guinn’s commitment “was present wherever he was — what he brought was a sense of responsibility, understanding, fairness, caring and warmth.”

While there have been many accolades heaped on Guinn, “what should come to mind is the image of a man of faith — faith in his community and his family,” Pepe said. “Although we suffer today our loss … we are uplifted by the legacy of hope he gave us.”

Longtime friend George Randall eulogized Guinn as a “great citizen of Nevada,” as well as a friend, husband, father and grandfather.

“God called him to heaven because he needed help,” said Randall, his voice thick with emotion. “He called the best man available.”

The son of migrant farm workers, Guinn was superintendent of the Clark County School District from 1969 to 1978 and later served as interim president of UNLV. Guinn also held top roles in banking and business, including chairman and chief executive of Southwest Gas.

State Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, recalled in his eulogy meeting Guinn for the first time in the early 1970’s. Raggio was a freshman legislator and Guinn was running the state’s largest school district.

Guinn pulled him aside in Carson City and said he wanted to talk about the Nevada Plan.

Raggio asked what the Nevada Plan was, and Guinn explained it was the blueprint used by the state to calculate basic support to the public schools. He then went on to give Raggio a crash course in the intricacies of the state’s budget and education funding formula.

“At the time he must have thought, `Where do they get these people they send to the Legislature,” Raggio said, as the church audience laughed.

But Guinn proved to be an invaluable resource when it came to understanding facts and figures, Raggio said. He also had a clear vision of what Nevada needed.

“He pursued that vision without sacrificing his strong personal faith,” Raggio said. He fought for the common good of the people he was elected to serve.”

Because of Guinn’s service, “We are a prouder, stronger, better state,” Raggio said.

Pete Ernaut, Guinn’s former chief of staff, said “hard work” had been his boss’ guiding principal. While serving as governor, he was the first one in the office in the morning and the last one to leave at night — “Not most days, but every day,” Ernaut said.

Guinn spent hundreds of hours pouring over the state’s budget, navigating the minutiae and always looking for ways to improve public services.

“He agonized over every dollar,” Ernaut said. “He knew it meant something to a kid in a classroom, a cop on the street, a senior citizen trying to make it or a disabled person trying to live a normal life.”

When asked by the Las Vegas Boy Scouts to take part in a golfing fundraiser Guinn, who had never played the sport before, immediately said yes. Ernaut feared a public relations nightmare if Guinn were to whiff the ball off the tee. But on the day of the tournament, Guinn, a natural athlete , hit a 260-yard drive down the middle of the fairway.

“He never had any doubts,” Ernaut said. “He did it because it needed to be done.”

For all the many titles Guinn held, none were more important than “father, grandfather, brother — and most of all, husband to Dema,” said Ernaut, as he wiped tears from his face. “God bless you Kenny Guinn. Nevada has lost a great man.”

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