KENNY GUINN: Dies in fall from roof of Vegas home |

KENNY GUINN: Dies in fall from roof of Vegas home

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn relaxes in his den at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City, Nev. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2005 with his dog "Mimi." Guinn is in his final year as governor after serving two terms and is looking forward to touring the state with his wife Dema. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

Former Gov. Kenny Guinn died Thursday after a fall from the roof of his Las Vegas home.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Billy Vassiliadis of R&R Partners in Las Vegas said former first lady Dema Guinn was there when the accident occurred.

“Obviously, the first lady is taking it rough,” he said. “She lost her best friend today and her partner.”

Vassiliadis described the Guinns as “the absolute model governor and first lady, and model first citizens of the state.”

“It was totally unexpected so there are no arrangements yet,” he said.

The Guinns married in 1956, recently celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary, and have two sons, Jeff and Steve.

The news prompted an outpouring of support and condolences from dozens of people, affirming Guinn’s popularity and the respect so many Nevadans had for him as a person and a public official. They ranged from Sen. Harry Reid’s description of him as “one of my dear friends,” Sen. John Ensign’s remembering that Guinn signed his high school diploma and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt saying Guinn had been a friend for four decades to condolences offered by state workers and Nevadans who knew him.

Tennis great Andre Agassi, who worked with Guinn on education issues, described the governor as “a man of true character, a brilliant and gifted Nevadan” and true friend of education.

The family later issued a statement thanking people for their support.

“The many e-mails and phone calls of support from across the nation serve as a warm reminder of how many loved him and how many lives he touched,” the statement said.

“I’m personally devastated,” said State Sen. Bill Raggio. “I thought so much of him and worked with him very closely, probably closer than with any other governor.”

Guinn, 73, was reportedly using a leaf blower to clean pine needles from the roof at the home when he suffered a heart attack. It wasn’t clear whether the attack caused the fall or the other way around.

A Republican, Guinn served two terms as Nevada’s 27th governor, leaving office in January 2007. But with his long and prominent history, he has been described by more than one observer as the most highly qualified governor the state has ever had.

He had careers as a teacher and coach in Las Vegas where he rose to superintendent of the Clark County School District. He later headed PriMerit Bank and Southwest Gas before running for governor. He also served a year as president of UNLV, helping that school through a financial crisis and led a team of business and public policy leaders in developing a Fiscal Agenda for Nevada during the 1980s.

After leaving office, he made his fourth and, finally successful, attempt to retire. He and Dema divided their time between homes in Las Vegas, Reno and overlooking the beach in San Diego.

When Guinn took office in 1998, his first task was to cut $350 million from the budget. He instituted a hiring freeze and cut 1,000 vacant positions from the budget. He put state agencies on a diet, mandating they limit their two-year funding requests to a base of two times their current year’s budget plus inflationary costs.

Then he ordered a “fundamental review” by all agencies of their operations and programs. By 2001, he said that review had cut another $30 million from state spending.

He privatized the state’s industrial insurance system, lifting a multibillion-dollar unfunded liability from the state’s shoulders; created the Millennium Scholarship to give middle class Nevada high school graduates with a B average or better help paying tuition for college and set up Senior RX to provide low-cost prescription drugs to low income seniors.

He bonded for more than $1 billion worth of critically needed highway and road work and greatly expanded funding for mental health programs. He also pushed through a $300 million rebate to taxpayers after revenues recovered and began all-day kindergarten with $22 million to implement it in at-risk schools.

He was proud also of the tough stand he took blocking public utility deregulation in Nevada, saying if the process had gone forward, it would have put Nevada consumers at the mercy of California and left their energy needs in the hands of a company owned by Enron.

He had his detractors, who typically focused on his decision to support an $833 million tax increase package to end the 2003 Legislature.

He left some advice for his successors.

“The thing I would say to people is once you get here, the job will change the individual more than the individual will change the process of government. It’s no longer a political debate; it’s reality.”

He said it’s important to be a good listener “so people can help you make the right decisions.”

Finally, Guinn said: “If you don’t want to help people, you shouldn’t be in this job.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons ordered flags to half-staff throughout the state and offered his sympathy to Guinn’s family and friends.

“Kenny Guinn was a proud Nevadan and his leadership of Nevada and many contributions to the Silver State will be remembered for years to come,” said Gibbons.