Janice Ayres: Remembering Mike O’Callaghan: A great governor
After writing a previous column about former Gov. Kenny Guinn, I had some calls from people asking me to write about another favorite Nevada governor, Mike O’Callaghan.
“Governor Mike,” as he was affectionately known to Nevadans, was born Sept. 10, 1929, and died on March 5, 2004, at age 74. He served as governor from 1971 to 1979.
O’Callaghan was a man of great compassion and was renowned for his generosity to people in need. He wore many hats in his lifetime: a teacher in Henderson, Nev.; a boxer; a decorated war hero; an elected official; and a newspaper man. But he is most remembered as a friend and humanitarian.
Not many people remember that it was Gov. O’Callaghan who realized that our seniors were (as usual) getting the short end of the stick, and so he created the Division for Aging Services to look into and provide for the needs of Nevada’s seniors. That was 37 years ago. In addition, he created a State Consumer Affairs Office and the Nevada Housing Division. Mike also saw that the state was out of balance in hiring women, minorities and the disabled, and he had a really significant impact on increasing these numbers as state employees.
And everyone knew how O’Callaghan felt about the kids who were placed in the Nevada State Children’s Home in Carson City. These were orphaned children who had never been adopted. The governor cautioned his staff to never turn away one of these kids if they turned up at his office. They were to notify him and bring the child to him immediately. It was this kind of kindness and compassion that made him a legend.
At the age of 16, Mike signed up to be a Marine and later joined the Air Force and then the Army. He earned the Bronze Star with a ‘V’ for valor for risking his life to save his fellow soldiers during a horrendous battle in the Korean War, losing most of his left leg, for which he wore a prosthesis.
In the words of his son Michael: “My Dad was a good man who spent his life helping people. He didn’t go for vacations, he went to help people. He was the ultimate public servant.” My sentiments too, Michael. We could use a whole bunch of Mike O’Callaghans in Washington, D.C., right now. He would never have put up with all this posturing and “chicken” games being played. He got things done – and for the better.
And before Republicans get their pens out to attack me (Mike was Democrat), 100 percent of this information came from Sen. Dean Heller’s “Political History of Nevada,” published in 2006 while he was Secretary of State. He dedicated his book to Donal “Mike” O’Callaghan, and the dedication contained most of this information. I believe that Dean did a fine job, describing not only a great person but also a great governor of Nevada.
• Janice Ayres is president of Nevada Senior Corps Association.