Former U.S. Representative Barbara F. Vucanovich, who died peacefully Monday after a brief illness, was remembered for her work across the aisle and her efforts to help Nevada residents.
Councilman Bob Erickson, who was Fallon mayor from 1987-1995 and also a councilman before that, grew up in Reno and lived not too far away from Vucanovich. Her death comes as a surprise to Erickson.
“It’s a real shocker,” he said “I had heard she had some health issues. But even in her 90s she was very vigorous.”
Erickson said the congresswoman was very helpful to both Fallon and Churchill County when she served in the House of Representatives and also as a Nevada representative for then U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt. Erickson said Vucanovich was very helpful in getting key legislation passed in 1989.
“She worked with the city as well as the county and TCID (Truckee-Carson Irrigation District),” Erickson recounted. “She was very supportive of Fallon and came here often. She was a very accessible person.”
What Erickson remembers about Vucanovich was her ability to work with all people and helped both Republicans and Democrats.
Erickson said Vucanovich was very effective in dealing with senior citizen issues such as Social Security and Medicare.
“If it was a Nevada issue, it didn’t matter your party of affiliation,” he said. “She was there to provide assistance.”
Retired County Manager B.J. Selinder said Vucanovich possessed the same ideals of Laxalt and President Ronald Reagan. Selinder said he did not know Vucanovich well, but he had the opportunity to work with her on many issues of importance to Churchill County.
“She was always willing to help rural Nevada,” he said. “She was a very competent person who represented Nevada well in Washington, D.C.”
As expressed by Erickson, Selinder said senior issues received immediate attention. He said if they rose to a national level, she was responsive.
“Barbara Vucanovich was the matriarch of her political generation — the first woman elected to Congress from Nevada and the first Nevadan to rise to a position of leadership within the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “Barbara was known for protecting rural interests like mining and water, but she fought equally hard to protect gaming and to shield casino workers and retirees from unfair taxation. A breast cancer survivor herself, she worked for funding for early screening, detection and treatment of breast cancer.”
Her family issued the following statement: “Barbara Vucanovich enjoyed her years of service to the people of Nevada, and like other Nevadans we are immensely proud of all she accomplished. We also know that while Barbara was deeply honored to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, her family always came first. Perhaps that is why she was so admired as a politician. We will miss her and we wish to extend our thanks to everyone for their support during this time of loss.”
Born June 22, 1921, in Camp Dix, N.J., Vucanovich was the daughter of Major Gen. Thomas Farrell, a noted U.S. Army figure during World War II, and Ynez White Farrell, a member of one of Southern California’s founding families. Raised in New York State, Vucanovich graduated from the Albany Academy for Girls and attended Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York.
Vucanovich’s early political career is most closely associated with Laxalt. She worked on several of Laxalt’s campaigns and, when he was elected to the Senate in 1974, she became his Northern Nevada district representative and served in that capacity until 1981.
In 1982, Vucanovich became the first person to hold a new Congressional seat encompassing 16 Nevada counties and a portion of Clark County. She was the first woman from Nevada to serve in the House of Representatives. She was elected to seven terms and retired in 1996, serving the second longest tenure of any Nevadan in the House.
Vucanovich first served on the House Interior Committee, an important assignment for rural constituents concerned with mining, grazing, and water issues. Among the bills she authored and saw enacted into law were the Source Tax — to prevent other states from collecting taxes on the pension and retirement benefits of retirees, many of whom had moved to Nevada — and the repeal of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.
As she gained seniority, Vucanovich served on the House Appropriations Committee and later chaired the Subcommittee on Military Construction. She supported equal treatment and pay for women and funding for early screening, detection and treatment of breast cancer. She was elected Republican Conference Secretary (one of the four leadership positions) in the 104th Congress, making her the first Nevadan to serve in a leadership position in the House of Representatives.
Both Congressman Mark Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, issued statements.
“Barbara set the standard for effective public service with humility,” Amodei said. “Nevadans have never been better represented than when Barbara Vucanovich was their Congresswoman. She was a true Nevadan and public servant.”
“With the passing of Barbara Vucanovich, the Silver State has lost one of its finest and most well-respected Nevadans,” Heller said. “Barbara always stressed that constituent services and responding directly to Nevadans’ needs are the most important responsibilities of public service.”
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., served with Vucanovich in the House before he was elected to the Senate in the 1980s.
“Barbara and I came to Congress together in 1983,” he said. “She was such a pleasure to work with. She and her late husband George were inseparable whether they were together in D.C. or in Nevada I will miss them both very much and my thoughts are with the family during this difficult time.”
A viewing and recitation of the rosary will be held Thursday at Our Lady of the Snows Church in Reno with viewing at 5 p.m. followed by the rosary at 7 p.m. A funeral Mass of Resurrection will be held at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Reno at 1 p.m. on Friday. A reception celebrating Vucanovich’s life will be held at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks beginning at 4 p.m. Burial services are private. The family invites condolence messages in the “family guestbook” at the website www.waltonsfuneralhomes.com.