Eye of 59-year Carson City newsman closes
October 12, 2006
You’ll find about six inches of white space on page A6 of today’s Nevada Appeal. It has been left blank intentionally to mark the death of Bill Dolan, who has filled the space with “Past Pages” for 59 years.
The empty space is a visual mark representing the void left in the hearts of his family and those of us in his extended newspaper family, who learned of his death Thursday.
We have columns from Bill that we could use, and his son and daughter will continue the column he began writing as a journalism student at the University of Nevada in 1947. But he will be missed.
Each week, he would come into the offices of the Appeal with his pages in hand, stopping just long enough to share a tidbit of history he’d gathered that day and shuffle out.
Former editors who have worked with “Scoop Dolan” during his career – 1947 to 1989 – really 2006, say his passion for newspapers and his nose for news were only surpassed by his care for people.
“He absolutely loved newspapers,” said Don Ham, now on the city desk of the Las Vegas Review Journal. “He’s been editor, publisher, ad director. He played every role at a newspaper. You could walk up and talk to him about everything. If you wanted to know something that went on 20, 30, 40 years ago in Carson City or Virginia City you could just ask the guy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge.
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“He was a nice guy, low key. A comfortable guy to be around.”
Steve Frady, now a public information officer for the City of Reno, said, “I considered him a resource with a wealth of knowledge of the community, a history of the community and a history of newspapers that on countless occasions was a tremendous benefit for my projects. More importantly, Bill cared about people and especially the people with whom he worked. Bill had a tremendous sense of humor that sometimes could let you know in a somewhat gentle and humorous way that you were off the mark.
“I bowled for the Appeal’s Bowling team. It was usually in the evenings at the old Carson Bowling Alley when he would let you know, with a little humor, that you might want to take another approach on a story or a project you were working on. He was really sensitive to people’s feelings and what they put into their projects.”
Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said, “He was one of the links that readers have had to the Nevada Appeal for many, many years. Fifty-nine years is just a remarkable record. I don’t know of any others.
“He was a fount of knowledge of the history of the area and the people that were here and a longtime, a leader in the community.”
Dolan served for 45 years on the Nevada Day board, stepping back from active duty in 2002. He was a member of the Lions Club and the Leisure Hour Club, and was nominated man of the year in 1983. In 1998 he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.
State Archivist Guy Rocha called Dolan an irreplaceable icon of Carson City.
“Bill had his own style. What struck me was Bill’s eye. Seeing Carson City through Bill’s eyes.
“Bill had his own frame of reference, and I came to know Bill by the stories that he picked. He would look and say ‘What do I think folks would think is interesting?” And I think he got that.
“He wrote a friendly folksy newsy historical column. I would find gems there then do the research. I can’t thank Bill Dolan enough for entertaining me and sometimes educating me.”
Frady too saw value in what he termed “one of Dolan’s favorite projects.”
“He always had a keen nose for something that was newsworthy. His columns were built on a more traditional type of journalism, focused more on community news than on the world. His columns were a glimpse of the world today. In Bill’s day, a focus on the world today was a focus on the community. They tended to look at things that were closer to the community at things that are not covered in depth today.
“The column proved to a valuable source, in the way of closure in a line-of-duty death that occurred in a family,” Frady said.
Sometime ago Frady learned from Dolan of the death of George Harris on July 30, 1935, in a fire at American Flat.
Harris’ name was added to the Firefighters Memorial Wall at Mills Park in 1997, and the information “really proved to be a valuable resource link for closure to that family,” Frady said.
Rocha described Dolan as cantankerous and curmudgenous when you first met him but as a dear person when you got to know him.
“He was just kind of the old newspaper man,” Rocha said. “When you got to know him, you understood his passion.”
Dolan was born prematurely, but of pioneer stock in Ely in April 1923, weighing 2 pounds. He said in a 2002 interview that his mother kept him warm by wrapping him in sheepskins.
“When my mother was cooking at a sheep camp, she kept me in a wash tub with a Sears catalogue,” he said. “She cooked from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. It was a rough life.”
He remembered moving often and spent many of his earlier years without radio or television, a fact that he said helped his verbal skills.
“The last light in Cherry Creek went off at 9 a.m. and the only light in the valley was miles away,” he said. “We grew up with the things most take for granted today, no doctors and often no electricity. All I did was read.”
He earned the highest score in reading and comprehension when he attended Virginia City’s Fourth Ward School in 1936, just before the school closed. He was in the seventh grade.
He acquired an amateur radio license before graduation from Carson High School in 1940 and during World War II, served in the European Front with the T-5 Signal Corp. where he used his radio skills during the D-Day invasion in what has been called “the greatest secret hoax in military history” to trick the Germans into thinking the invasion would be at Calais, not Normandy. Dolan’s unit was awarded a Certificate of Merit by Gen. Omar Bradley for helping save 100,000 lives.
After the war, he completed a degree in journalism with a teaching credential from the University of Nevada and began work at the Nevada Appeal never missing a day.
“The structure was such that there was nobody else there to make it run, if I was gone,” he said in 2003.
He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter, Susan Ballew, and son, Trent Dolan, all of Carson City.
• Susie Vasquez and Karl Horeis contributed to this report.