Good-bye to a Friend, Harry Reid
A Personal, Not Political, Memorial
Somebody important died. He was important to the nation. He was important to his home state. To his family. And he was important to my family. His name was Harry Reid.
Harry held a lot of titles. He was Senate Majority Leader. Senate Minority Leader. Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Senate Minority Whip. US Senator from Nevada (1987-2017). Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Nevada Lt. Governor. Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
I cannot begin to chronicle his tremendous career accomplishments. They include bringing integrity to Nevada’s gaming industry, protecting the environment in the state, the country, and the planet, and working with President Barack Obama to bring affordable health care to all Americans. Harry Reid was hard-working, modest, and ethical.
But instead of ticking off a list of Harry’s achievements, I want to share a few personal anecdotes about what Harry meant to my family.
Both my husband and I have known Harry most of our lives. My oldest brother Gil and Harry were lawyers together and close friends. Both Gil and my sister-in-law Elaine played leadership roles in Harry’s many political campaigns. When Gil died in 2013, Harry delivered the eulogy. I’ll never forget when he handed that eulogy to Gil’s young grandson. It seemed one of the saddest and most sacred moments that day — itself one of the saddest days of my life.
The Nevada Gaming Commission Days
I didn’t just know Harry as a family friend, but also professionally. I occasionally interviewed him when I was a reporter and he was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It wasn’t hard to separate the personal/professional relationships. Harry was a no-nonsense, no-chitchat, all-business kind of guy.
The day after Harry left the gaming commission, he called and asked me to come over to his law office. When I sat down, he handed me a book and said he had been holding it for a long time but hadn’t felt it was appropriate to give me a gift while I was doing stories involving his work on the commission. I laughed and asked if he was concerned people would think I could be “bought for the price of a book.” He replied by giving me a stern lecture about ethics and the importance of protecting my integrity.
The book? Nicholas and Alexandra, a biography of the last royal family of Russia by historian Robert K. Massie. (My degrees are in Russian studies and I dreamed of. becoming a foreign correspondent.) To this day, that book is an all-time favorite and occupies a place of honor on my crowded bookshelves. It still provides lessons about the fall of empires AND the importance of integrity from a man who had it in abundance.
A few years later when Harry was running for the Senate, he asked me to serve as his press secretary, but I declined, preferring to continue working as a reporter. Still, our friendship continued. A short time later, I broke my leg. It was a doozy of an injury and I wound up in the hospital for surgery. I woke up to a roomful of flowers, including some from Harry and his wife Landra.
A Life-Changing Question
Decades later, my brother Gil called me and said, “Harry called me with a question for you.”
“Huh? Why didn’t he call me?”
“I don’t know. He wanted me to talk to you.”
“Weird. Shoot. What’s up?”
“He wants to recommend Jon for a presidential position to Bush but wants to know how you feel about moving back to DC after all these years.”
It was such an old-fashioned, sweet workaround — discuss a life-changing, career-making honor for Jon, but first clearing it with the spouse by talking to my 21-years-older big brother!
Of course, I was OK, more than OK with it. And so was Jon, who had his own long history of friendship and respect for Harry Reid. Jon first met then-Lt. Gov. Reid when Jon was a senior in college working as an intern for Gov. Mike O’Callaghan.
My OK to the move back East began one of the happiest most productive chapters of Jon’s professional life. Senator Reid recommended him to President George W. Bush to serve as a commissioner on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees wholesale energy policy for the United States. It’s a Senate-confirmed position, and after Jon served as a commissioner for two years, President Obama, at Harry’s recommendation, named Jon chairman, a post he held for five years — making him the longest-serving chair in the agency’s history.
During all that time, Senate Majority Leader Reid ran interference on important initiatives Jon and FERC worked on to make the nation’s energy grid more efficient and clean.
Harry Reid – A Modest Man
One night in DC, Harry invited a few of us to dinner at a local restaurant. Listening to public radio on the drive over, I knew it had been a rough day on Capitol Hill filled with bitter partisan wrangling over important legislation. I thought Harry would look angry or tired or both. I was wrong. He looked relaxed, almost upbeat. Instead of bending everybody’s ear with his exploits or frustrations, he asked us to go round the table and talk about our accomplishments of the day. That was vintage Harry Reid. Modest. Discrete. Focused on progress.
And in terms of all his accomplishments, it was all truly remarkable considering his impoverished beginnings. His mother took in laundry from local brothels. His father worked as a miner. To say life was difficult would be an understatement. Yet, Harry, who had boxed in his youth, was a fighter all his life, not just to make a better life for himself and his family, but for working people everywhere.
At his memorial service in Las Vegas, two Presidents spoke proudly — indeed, lovingly — of Harry’s life and career. Even knowing the man and his story, I am overwhelmed to think of all a kid from the tiny town of Searchlight achieved. It really is an epic American story, one to inspire us all.
Good-Bye to a Good Friend
Yes, Harry Reid was important to the nation. The state. To Landra. His children, including his son Rory, my kind and gentle friend. His grandchildren, and a new great-grandchild. And his friends. I’m so glad my late brother Gil, my husband Jon, and I was among them.
Rest in peace, Harry.
Photo Credit: YouTube
Awww, so sweet. Thank you.
You bring his memory to life
What a warm, lovely and special tribute! Many thanks Karen! Warm regards,Miriam
Thank you. And as this appears, Senator Reid lies in state in the U.S. Capitol. Such a remarkable and moving honor.
What a beautiful tribute, Karen! He — and you! — have led exceedingly interesting lives.
That was a beautiful tribute to Senator Harry Reid, a wise and sensible gentleman. Thank you.