YERINGTON — Several hundred of Joe Dini’s friends, family and colleagues paid their last respects Tuesday at a funeral mass for the former, longtime Nevada Assembly speaker who was described as a quiet, humble man who became a “legislative giant” with a nose for compromise during more than three decades in the legislature.
Dozens of past and present state legislators, elected and other government officials crowded into the Yerington High School Gymnasium for Tuesday’s service for the state’s longest-serving assemblyman. He died April 10 at the age of 85.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and ex-Gov. and -U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan were among the dignitaries on hand.
“I never met a man or woman who did not like Joe Dini — never,” said Bryan, who praised his fellow Democrat for his ability to unite divided factions on both sides of the aisle during his 36 years of service.
Dini was one of the most influential people in Nevada history, Bryan said, a “legislative giant ... the legislative equivalent of a grand master in chess.”
A keen negotiator, he held his cards close to the vest and “always knew when to hold them and when to fold them,” Bryan said. He said a testament to his influence was the disproportionate amount of transportation funding he was able to secure for his rural district.
“Lyon County has more paved roads per capita than any other county,” Bryan said. “All roads led to Yerington.”
Dini served a record eight times leading the lower chamber in the Nevada Legislature. President Lyndon Johnson was in the White House when he first was elected to the Assembly in 1967, and he served until 2002.
The son of Italian immigrants, Dini was born in 1929 in Yerington and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. For decades he owned and ran Dini’s Lucky Club in the rural farming community in the Mason Valley about 80 miles southeast of Reno. The casino is now owned by two of his sons, Jay and George, who currently serves as Yerington mayor.
Father Jorge Herrera, who led the funeral mass, described Dini as a quiet, simple, humble man. Herrera recalled that when he first came to his new church in Yerington he gave a rather progressive homily and Dini warned him afterward — tongue in cheek — to watch out because Dini and the priest might be the only Democrats in the GOP-dominated Lyon County.
Marty Bibb, a longtime aide and adviser to Dini, described him on Tuesday as a statesman and master of compromise. He said Dini was committed not only to issues of importance to his rural district like agriculture and water policy, but to the entire state when it came to education, medical care and conservation, especially in his strong support for the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
In each case, Bibb said, “it was promises made and promises kept.”