Sen. ‘Jake’ served with seven governors
Nevada Appeal News Service
In the 40 years that Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen served in the Nevada Legislature, the conservative Douglas County lawmaker worked as well with the Democratic governors as he did with their Republican counterparts.
Five Nevada governors, including incumbent Gov. Kenny Guinn, reflected on Jacobsen’s service to his constituents and his reputation for putting people before politics.
Jacobsen, who died at his Minden home July 26 at age 85, served seven governors, four Democrats and three Republicans.
“I first met Jake in January 1969, my first session in the Legislature,” said retired U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat who served as governor 1983-89.
“I came to the Legislature knowing really no one and got to know him quite well. He was just a wonderful person. He took great pride in his legislative duties, particularly those things that had to do with the Capitol. When I was governor, he always came to the mansion to see if there was anything I needed.”
Bryan recalled the evening he and his wife, Bonnie, invited Lawrence and Betty Jacobsen to dinner at the Governor’s Mansion.
“We used to see them at those big, official functions, but he told me at one time that none of the governors had personally asked him and Betty to dinner,” Bryan recalled.
He issued the invitation and the Bryans and the Jacobsens spent an evening together.
“It was wonderful. It just the four of us,” Bryan said. “We didn’t wear the same political jersey, but we had a wonderful time.”
Bryan recalled an incident during his campaign for the U.S. Senate when Jacobsen – setting partisanship aside – helped him defuse Republican opponent Chic Hecht’s campaign advertisement that claimed Bryan was using a state airplane for his personal use.
“I just couldn’t get that issue behind me. It was Jake who said that it was not true. He said it was a state plane that the Department of Transportation uses.
“He didn’t have to do that. But he was asked and he told the truth. He called the shots as he saw them. I will never forget that.”
Bryan reflected on Jacobsen’s inclusion in the “greatest generation,” those who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II.
“He was really a product of his times and represents the generation of Americans who are rapidly passing on. I can’t think of anyone in the Legislature more generous with his time or more proud of the people of Douglas County. He is going to be missed.”
Shortly after her husband died July 26, Betty Jacobsen said she received a condolence call from former Gov. Robert Miller, in office from 1989-99.
“He told me about how he would always find Lawrence’s car with the State Senate No. 3 license plate in the governor’s parking spot,” she said.
Miller laughed about the incident in an interview from Las Vegas on Friday.
“He was welcome to my parking place,” Miller said. “If anybody earned the right to my parking place for all the work he did, it certainly was Jake.”
While he was governor, Miller paid a surprise visit to the Douglas County Engine Company in Minden one cold Saturday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jacobsen’s service as a volunteer firefighter, along with brothers Don and Danny Hellwinkel.
“I always felt when you’re elected, you represent all the people. If you want people to treat you with respect, you treat them with respect. It was not a big thing at all for me to go out on a cold night to honor him. He worked hard and was always a fair person,” Miller said.
Miller, a Democrat, praised Jacobsen’s strong work ethic.
“I think he was an embodiment of what a true Nevadan is: Somebody in Levi’s with his sleeves rolled up who asks what needs to be done and says, ‘Let’s get to it.'”
During Miller’s tenure Jacobsen was second or third in line.
“As acting governor, he would come in and occupy the desk. I always had a smile thinking here’s somebody on the desk that kind of represents the true beginnings of the state. I had no concern that he would be trying to sell the state to California,” Miller said.
“I knew that while he was representing the office, I never needed to look over my shoulder.”
Sandy Miller referred to Jacobsen as the “angel of the mansion.”
“Every first lady would tell you that the minute you came into office, Jake was the first person to come over and say ‘What do you need?’
“He always was the person to follow through on the budget process for whatever you needed to have the mansion suitable for residents and visitors and make sure you got it,” Robert Miller said.
Gov. Robert List, in office from 1979-1983, said Jacobsen relished his tenure as acting governor.
“He took tremendous pride in being acting governor. He loved to come into the (governor’s) office. He always had some ideas and liked to reminisce about the old days,” List recalled.
“He was more than just a great legislator and a good representative of Douglas County. He was a real spokesman and representative for firefighters on a statewide basis, police officers, and public employees. He was a tremendous, sincere lover of Nevada and its people. He really left a big mark on the state and will be missed.”
List, a Republican, credited Jacobsen’s success to his “good heart, good mind and sense of community responsibility.”
“He also had a wonderful family around him. Betty was a tremendous source of support. All of those things made him a whole man and a citizen extraordinaire.”
List said he had last visited with Jacobsen a few months ago.
“I am glad, too,” List said. “I just like to think of him as a guy who would always look you right in the eye and tell you what he thought. He was very direct. There were no wasted words with Jake.”
Former U.S. Senator and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt called Jacobsen a “devoted public servant” and a “true hero.”
Laxalt discussed his working relationship with Jacobsen reflecting the state legislator’s skills.
Laxalt, a Republican, was governor from 1967-1971.
“During the time that I was governor, Nevada and California decided to form the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency as a means to protect Lake Tahoe against over development,” Laxalt recalled.
He said Jacobsen had “grave reservations” about the new agency’s impact on private property.
“He deplored the idea of ‘regional government’ determining matters that he felt should be resolved in Douglas County,” Laxalt said.
But, he said, Jacobsen made his views “crystal clear” in a gentlemanly fashion and the differences never became personal.
Following Jacobsen’s death, Gov. Guinn ordered flags flown at half-staff at state buildings.
“I lost a friend and Nevada lost a role model for future generations,” Guinn said. “As a decorated survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he demonstrated how to translate the experience of war into a long, successful life filled with integrity, determination and caring.
“When Jake served as the president pro tempore of the Senate, I knew I had a trusted friend who could occupy my chair when I was out of state,” Guinn said.
“Sen. Jacobsen’s years in the Legislature set a model of service to which current and future members of the Legislature should aspire.”
Laxalt echoed that sentiment.
“Indeed, if there were more ‘Jake’ Jacobsens in politics today, there’d be a lot less acrimony and hostility,” Laxalt said.
Jacobsen’s first governor, Democrat Grant Sawyer who served from 1959-1967, died in 1996.
Gov. Michael O’Callaghan, in office from 1971-1979, died in 2004.
In an interview in 2001, marking Jacobsen’s 80th birthday, O’Callaghan told The Record-Courier:
“There’s not another politician like him. Jake is a fine man. No, he’s an outstanding human being. A man you could always, always trust. There is not a mean bone in the body of Lawrence Jacobsen. He do
If you go:
WHAT: Memorial service for Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday
WHERE: Minden Park
An invitation has been issued to fire departments throughout the state to send representatives and apparatus to honor the longtime legislator. A number of Jacobsen’s colleagues at the Nevada Legislature are expected to attend. The public is invited.
Parking around the park will be restricted to fire departments setting up an honor guard for the senator. Fifth Street from Esmeralda Avenue to Highway 395 is designated parking for the family.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to: Douglas County Fire Museum, in care of East Fork Fire & Paramedics Districts, PO Box 218, Minden, NV 89423.esn’t know what mean is.”