Former first lady Dema Guinn struggles with depression | NevadaAppeal.com
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Former first lady Dema Guinn struggles with depression

RAY HAGAR
Associated Press Member Exchange
Reno Gazette-Journal

LAS VEGAS – Former first lady Dema Guinn said she has overcome the shock of the sudden death last summer of her husband, former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Yet the death of her husband of 54 years in a fall from the backyard roof of their Las Vegas home has sent her into a depression she has yet to defeat.

She said she still searches for the answer to the question, “Dear Lord, why take Kenny in such a senseless accident?”

“I’ve asked that many times,” Guinn, 71, said. “I truly believe that when your time comes, it comes. It was meant for him to go, but I don’t know why.

“It’s hard losing your mother or father, and I can’t imagine losing a child,” she added. “But Kenny was so healthy. I thought he would be around for a long time.”

Dabbing tears with a tissue and dressed in black, Dema Guinn recalled urging the former governor not to get up on the roof of their home on that fateful day last July 22.

“He said there were so many pine needles up on the roof that he was going to get the blower and get up there. I said, ‘Please don’t go up there because you are going to fall.’ He had a bad hip, and he had had the other hip replaced. But he said no, it would only take a few seconds.

“He said, ‘I can do this and not to worry.’

“Then I heard a noise with the ladder, and I ran out back and saw that he fell. And that is when he died in my arms.”

The fall was no more than 10 feet, Guinn said. But Kenny Guinn landed face-first on a concrete floor. Dema Guinn motioned with her hand placed at the side of her face to describe the point of impact.

“I called 911, and I started pounding on his chest,” she said. “He was dead before they got here. I felt his last heartbeat.

The governor had no last words for his loving wife.

“No, nothing. He died instantly. All I could see were his blue eyes,” Guinn said.

Kenny Guinn’s take-charge and do-it-yourself traits were admirable for a leader but ultimately led to his death, his widow said.

“That’s Kenny,” she said, recalling how he was zapped a few times redoing the electrical wiring in their home.

Kenny Guinn’s style was apparent when Dema Guinn and he went to the same elementary school in Exeter, Calif. It was the 1950s. She was the daughter of a successful businessman and a city councilman. Her family was among the first in town to have a television set.

Kenny Guinn’s childhood as a son of migrant workers from Arkansas who lived in a dirt-floor house in the “Little Okie” farm camp near Exeter, Calif. – then earned a football scholarship to the University of Southern California – has been well chronicled.

“He was the outstanding athlete, he was on the honor roll, in the honor society and he was the toughest kid on the block,” Guinn said. “But what really attracted me to Kenny was his kindness to the elderly and children.

“He had compassion, and I thought he would make a great husband and father, which he did.”

Guinn said she first fell in love with Kenny Guinn at 15. By 16, she was wearing his engagement ring. And now, he has provided well for her after his death.

Yet when she first came across Kenny Guinn in elementary school, Dema Guinn recalls, she thought he was a bully.

“Someone said to me that every marriage has its bumpy road,” she said. “But I never had a bumpy road when I was married to Kenny. I had my bumpy road with Kenny in elementary school because he was always picking on me and making fun of me. I had my disagreements with Kenny when I was young, never when we were married.”

Guinn will continue to live in the Campbell Circle house where Kenny Guinn died. The two built it together 32 years ago, and it holds many memories.

But Dema Guinn refuses to enter the her husband’s private office in the house, leaving it like a shrine – as it was the day he died.

She will keep the couple’s home at Montreux in Reno and plans to return to it for a few weeks after Christmas. But her Las Vegas residence will always be home.

“I think this is where he would want me,” Dema Guinn said. “I’m here with my children and grandchildren, and this is where he would want me to maintain my home.”

Guinn lives alone in the 6,000 square-foot house. Although family and friends call often, her constant companion is her poodle, Mimi.

She only goes into a few rooms of the house – mostly the kitchen, utility room and bedroom.

She said she paces the floor a lot, or sits on the front porch. Her diet sometimes consists of nibbling on Triscuits and dabs of peanut butter. She fights an urge to live in seclusion.

“Time is my solution to get over this,” Guinn said. “I have talked to many women, and they tell me that you don’t want to talk to people and you don’t want to go out for months. Sometimes it is six months or three months. I don’t know how long mine is going to last, but I try to push myself to go places.”

She vows someday to overcome her sorrowful heart: “I’m getting better, really,” she said, later adding, “I’m clearly not up to par. You can tell that.”

She also sees a clear future for herself. Guinn plans to live the rest of her life as the representative of Kenny Guinn, fighting for his No. 1 project, the Millennium Scholarship.

“I have to live.” she said. “I have to represent my husband. He would want me to do that.

“I am not going to fold,” she said. “Kenny wouldn’t want me to. He would want me to be out there fighting for the things he believed in.”