The Nevada Senate on Wednesday inducted two of the body’s most respected former members into the Senate Hall of Fame.
Sue Wagner, the fifth woman ever elected to the Senate, and Bernice Mathews, whose tenure spanned eight regular and 10 special sessions, were honored as intelligent, dedicated and courageous public servants.
Mathews, a Democrat, served 16 years ending as the first woman to chair the Senate Finance Committee in the 2009 session. She was especially praised for her dedication to expanding educational opportunities in Nevada.
Mathews was the first African-American woman in the Senate. Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said of her, “as a student growing up in the segregated South, she understood what it was like to be denied quality opportunities for education.”
Current Senate Finance Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, praised Mathews’ “intelligence, compassion, teamwork and common sense.”
She was praised for her work on bills dealing with education, disabilities, domestic abuse and mental health services, among others.
Denis cited Mathews’ previous career as a member of the Reno City Council and assistant mayor before she ran for Senate in 1994. And Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, a doctor, praised her career as a registered nurse. It included serving as head nurse at Washoe Medical Center (now Renown) and, eventually, head of the health sciences and nursing program at Truckee Meadows Community College.
“I salute you for your contributions to the nursing profession and to medical care in this state,” he said. “You’re a shining example to women everywhere.”
Mathews also has had an extensive business career and still operates two businesses at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Wagner, a Republican who won a seat in the Assembly in 1974, was elected to the Senate in 1980. She served 10 years in that house before becoming Nevada’s first female lieutenant governor in 1991. She followed that with an 11-year career on the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Denis praised her dedication to issues such as domestic violence and other things affecting women and children.
Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said Wagner helped break down the walls that too often blocked women from winning high political office.
She was praised as a courageous political leader and independent woman who never failed to vote her conscience.
Several veteran political observers have said over the years that, were it not for an airplane crash that seriously damaged her health, Wagner would have been the odds-on favorite to become Nevada’s first female governor.
Wagner served as an appointed or elected officer in Nevada for more than 30 years, Denis said.
Both women were present on the floor to receive the accolades.