Dawn Gibbons finds being Nevada's first lady has ups and downs

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Dawn Gibbons talks Oct. 2 about the state's fight against methamphetamine addiction, a cause she has championed as Nevada's first lady.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Dawn Gibbons talks Oct. 2 about the state's fight against methamphetamine addiction, a cause she has championed as Nevada's first lady.

Dawn Gibbons, Nevada's first lady, knows this should be the best time of her life.

On a recent sunny afternoon at the Governor's Mansion, prison trustees were putting up Halloween decorations in expectation of the arrival of several thousand trick-or-treaters. The governor's 2-year-old granddaughter dropped by for lunch. The food in the place is so good she's banned her husband from eating any more ice cream.

This might be a happy day, but Gibbons has experienced a good deal of stress in her 10 months as first lady.

The popularity ratings of her governor-husband, Jim, remain lower than American support for the war in Iraq. And about the time they were moving into the mansion in January, the Wall Street Journal reported a federal grand jury was investigating whether Jim Gibbons took bribes when he was in Congress.

Gov. Gibbons is being investigated because of claims that he accepted money, trips and gifts from Warren Trepp, a wealthy Reno businessman, in exchange for helping him get federal contracts.

The Gibbonses had to take out a line of credit on their paid-off Reno home to pay for some of the legal costs.

"It hasn't been fun. It affects you," said Dawn Gibbons, 53.

"People will believe what they will believe. A lot of people have no hope. We have hope. This is a nice house we live in."

She stops a tour of the mansion at a display that holds the gaudy electric guitar she paid a Lovelock prison inmate $2,000 to create for her husband.

It rests next to the governor's old Beatles and Bobby Vee records, the Kingsmen's recording of "Louie Louie," and the guitar Gibbons played from the time he was a teenager.

Dawn Gibbons recalls a day 24 years ago when she operated a wedding chapel and a flower shop in Reno and had just begun dating Gibbons, then an airline pilot and a lawyer.

"He sent me this huge beautiful bouquet of flowers," she said.

But on the day she received the flowers, a snowstorm blocked a bus carrying flowers she had ordered for her business.

That afternoon, a prospective bridegroom kept handing her 20s and insisted his bride have flowers as they waited for the minister to arrive.

Dawn Gibbons knew the first rule of any business - keep the customer happy.

That night Jim Gibbons inquired about what happened to his flowers. "I had to tell him. All I can say is he didn't give me flowers again for a very long time."

For Dawn Gibbons the Governor's Mansion remains her "home away from home," complete with a special run built in the backyard for their four dogs. Their actual home is a 25-minute drive away, in southwest Reno.

Jim Gibbons may be governor, but his wife says he is a "very shy" man who still returns to their Reno home on Sundays to mow their 2.75-acre lawn.

Despite refinancing the Reno home to pay for legal expenses, the first couple still could afford to buy 40 acres near Lamoille Canyon in Elko County in August for $575,000.

They financed that purchase by trading other property they owned and using Gibbons' congressional pension. Eventually they will build a home and retire there.

Her tenure as first lady has seen some missteps - such as her statement, just before her husband took office on Jan. 1, that there would be no alcohol in the mansion as long as she was first lady.

University of Nevada, Reno athletic boosters who periodically use the mansion and adjacent Nevada Room for fundraising events, complained. The booze ban was lifted.

"We really don't drink," Gibbons says. "Jim has a glass of wine once in a while, but I have never served it. I would rather get kicked around and criticized than hearing the first lady is a boozer."

During the governor's campaign last October, Jim Gibbons was accused by 32-year-old cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo of pushing her against a parking garage wall and making unwanted sexual advances. Gibbons told police he only helped Mazzeo up after she had fallen.

The incident occurred after Jim Gibbons, Mazzeo, political consultant Sig Rogich and others had been drinking in a Las Vegas restaurant. Gibbons told police he drank two glasses of wine, although a waitress said there had been heavy drinking by people at the table. No charges were brought against Gibbons in the incident.

Dawn Gibbons says there is an important reason for her to remain a teetotaler. She wants to be a positive role model for people, especially those who might be prone to addiction.

"Alcohol is a gateway drug. Make no mistake. It is not marijuana that is the gateway drug for meth users. It is alcohol."

Combating addiction to methamphetamine has become a crusade for the former four-term Assembly member. She travels the state to give speeches to anyone who will listen about the dangers of methamphetamine.

Dawn Gibbons sometimes is accompanied by a young woman whose meth-induced stupor caused her to forget she left the water running while her 9-month-old baby was in a bathtub.

"She didn't have to get to the bathtub to realize she had killed her son," Dawn Gibbons said. The woman received a prison term and came out eager to share her story about the dangers of meth use.

The drug ruins the lives of the wealthy, as well as the poor, Dawn Gibbons said, pointing to the case of former Sierra Nevada College President James Lee Ash, arrested in a Sparks motel in 2002. Police found meth and needles. He was getting high with an 18-year-old companion.

After three more arrests, Ash, now 62, wound up in Southern Desert Correctional Center. He was paroled earlier this year.

It's because of people like Ash that Dawn Gibbons can focus on her crusade against meth and not dwell on the Trepp investigation.

"No matter how hard I think life is, some people have it worse," she said.


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