Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Where I Stand:

Terry Lanni’s funeral a glimpse of all the lives he has touched

Terry Lanni

Terry Lanni, former chairman of the board and CEO of then-MGM Mirage, poses at the Bellagio in September 2007. Construction cranes from the CityCenter project can be seen at right. Launch slideshow »

Terry Lanni would have liked his funeral. He had so many of his friends and family in rapt attention.

The Holy Family Church in Pasadena, Calif., was packed, literally, to the rafters. It was standing room only for a celebration of the life of J. Terrence Lanni. That was his formal name. To everyone in the church and tens of thousands of his colleagues and friends who couldn’t be there, he was just Terry.

I am not Catholic but, just as Terry did in life, he made sure everyone felt comfortable in his presence. In my case and that of the man sitting in front of me, it was seeing so many Jesuits helping perform the Mass that reminded me of more carefree days. To so many others, it was the warmth in the words of Monsignor Connolly that could console and uplift the most cynical of human beings.

And for all of us, seeing the quiet strength of Debbie Lanni and their sons, Patrick and Sean, made being there a special moment. That’s how Terry would have wanted his funeral service to be, I think. Actually, none of us — and most of all Terry — wanted it to be anything like that because it was all too soon for our friend.

We all know that life has its tragic times, and people every day are taken far too soon. There are many who would give anything to live to be 68 years old. There are still many others, include me in this group, who believe that 68 is just getting started. That is where we all expected Terry to be.

After a very successful run at the helm of two of Las Vegas’ largest casino companies and exposing that industry and our community to his extraordinary leadership attributes, Terry finally called it quits to pursue the finer things in life. His family, his beloved USC and, of course, his horses.

It wasn’t long after he left the corporate boardroom that he got the bad news about cancer and the grave prospects that it presented for a man just starting on the next of life’s chapters. He attacked that miserable disease like he went after every other challenge. And he didn’t say “enough” until there was nothing else he could say.

As I listened to the reflections of his friends who shared their stories — Terry’s stories — with those gathered in that church, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer size of the crowd. As each of them spoke — Gary Jacobs about his working and playing relationship with his boss; Skipp Calvert about a lifelong friendship and his passion for anything Trojan; Bernie Schiappa about the meaning of having a pal and a very best friend; Franco Nuschese about how friends can enjoy travel and wine and food and wine and, yes, wine; and Sen. John McCain, who spoke eloquently about what it meant to be and have a friend, one who is there in the good and bad times but, especially, in the bad times — I realized why that church was so packed full of people who came from all walks of life but who came for one reason only. Because Terry touched their lives in a most positive way.

When I was much younger, my father used to drag me to the funerals of people I had never heard of. That obscurity was obvious when we arrived for the funeral services because, counting my father and me and excluding those who officiated, you could count the rest of the mourners usually on one hand. Hank used to explain to me that everyone deserves someone to be there to say goodbye, even people who left this life with no one to fill that role. That, I soon learned, was one of my jobs.

I have also been to the terribly sad funerals of young people who died untimely deaths. Their services were packed with other young people barely comprehending their loss and, of course, parents and siblings practically unable to speak. And I have been to services for very elderly people who outlived their friends and family so crowds were not expected although, occasionally, much appreciated.

Rarely, though, do I go to a funeral like Terry’s, because he left us at a time when he was still touching the lives of countless others and those folks were still very grateful for having known him and still able to make it to that church to pay their respects.

Given all the alternatives, I am sure most of us would opt for a very long life and a poorly attended funeral because we would have outlived the probable attendees. But we all know that choice is not ours so, instead, we should pay attention to the life that Terry Lanni lived.

I suspect that had he died 10 years earlier or two decades later, that Holy Family Church would still have been jam-packed. That is because the message from Terry’s funeral service was not how long but, rather, how well we live.

J. Terrence Lanni lived a life that was full and that had meaning. You could see that in Debbie’s eyes and hear it in the voices of his dear sons when they spoke about their dad.

I wish Terry could have been there to see what I saw.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.