Geoff Dornan writes about the passing of a colleague and friend

There's a memorial service this morning for a man at least a few old timers in state government will remember.

Russ Nielsen was Reno Bureau Chief and Nevada manager for United Press International for 30 years. For those of you who have to deal with me as a reporter, blame Russ. He's the guy who hired me while still in college and taught me how to do this job " a task, I confess, took a lot more patience than I have.

During his career in Nevada, he covered more than a dozen legislative sessions and every major story that happened in northern Nevada over that time, from the murder of Olympic skater Sonja McCaskie at the 1960 winter games to D.B. Cooper's airline hijacking and the shooting death of boxer Oscar Bonavena at Mustang Ranch brothel.

Russ was a teacher who had some pretty clear rules about the news business. He taught me to go into a story with an open mind and not assume anything.

He taught me to treat people fairly and ethically, not just because you'll have to deal with them again but because it's the right way to conduct yourself. He said that applied especially to the lady in the front office who controls your access to her boss.

He taught that it's better to be embarrassed by asking one person a stupid question than to not ask and end up embarrassed in front of thousands of readers.

He taught that promising a source confidentiality means just that, no matter what some lawyer or judge says " so don't do it lightly.

He taught that politicians have to know that, even if they consider you a friend, you'll write it if they screw up.

And he taught that clear simple writing best gets the point across, but that you can't do that unless you understand what you're writing.

We often beat the competition to the punch because of Russ's ability to take stories by phone.

I, Cy Ryan or Myram Borders" Russ's crew in those days " would get the facts from a court hearing, committee meeting or some other event and phone in. He could type at an amazing speed, faster than people talk. And as he typed, he could convert raw notes into an organized, polished news story " typing directly onto the teletype machine that fed the UPI wire. By the time I got back to the office, even if that was just 10 minutes later, my story would be in finished form, on the wire for all to read. This guy would make today's most prolific bloggers look like amateurs.

But beyond that, Russ was a nice guy. Quick witted, caring, generous, he was a friend as well as my boss and mentor. In fact, he was best man at my wedding.

We kept in contact after he retired from UPI. In fact, he, Cy and I had lunch a couple of months ago and expected to do it again soon except that the news has kept us busy.

I never expected Russ to die at 84. After all, his dad lived well into his 90s. I'll miss him, but his death reminds me not to put off getting together with other old friends.

Geoff Dornan covers state government for the Nevada Appeal.


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