By: Marcus Lavergne
One of Nevada’s most well-known legislators and the longest-serving state senator in Nevada history, the late William J. “Bill” Raggio was memorialized on the University of Nevada, Reno campus by many of those who knew him best on Thursday, Sept. 17. Raggio passed away three years ago at the age of 85.
Raggio retired from the Nevada State Senate in 2011 after representing Washoe County for nearly 50 years. Before his senatorial career, he served as Washoe County’s district attorney from 1958 to 1970 and earned honors such as being named “Outstanding Prosecutor in the United States” in 1965.
As a native Nevadan and legislative icon, Raggio played a significant part in boosting Nevada’s education and law programs, helping to push legislation for high school proficiency exams as well as gaining funding for the National Judicial College, which sits on UNR’s east side. U.S. Sen. Dean Heller noted Raggio as a “true statesman” in his 2014 floor speech, which recognized Nevada’s 150th year of statehood.
People who were close to Raggio, or at least respected his work as fellow Nevadan officials and representatives, were in attendance during the commemoration of some of his successes inside of the NJC lobby. Appearances were made by former UNR President John Lilley, who worked closely with Raggio, current President Mark Johnson and former Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.
Close friends also stepped up to the podium and spoke fondly of their memories and partnerships with Raggio. Such names include Tony Sanchez, the senior vice president of NV Energy’s Government and Community Strategy division.
One special attendee was Dale Raggio, the wife of the late former senator. She says that the senator was loved very much by those around him. Dale also expressed that her husband was extremely passionate in his work toward the advancement of education for the state.
“They loved him for who he was,” Dale said. “They loved him because of his personality, ethics and hard work. They loved him because of what he did for the state of Nevada.”
His name is emblazoned on educational institutions across the state, including the William J. Raggio Building, housing UNR’s College of Education, the Raggio Research Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, as well as the William and Dorothy Raggio High Tech Center at the College of Southern Nevada.
One building that embodies Raggio’s passion for both law and education is the NJC, an educational building on UNR’s campus where judges come from around the world to sharpen their skills. The College calls itself “a safe and collaborative place where judges can discuss issues they are facing in their role” on its website. Raggio has been called an integral part of the NJC’s move from the University of Colorado, Boulder, to UNR, which required additional funding on behalf of Nevada in 1964.
Marybel Batjer is the secretary of the California Government Operations Agency. Formerly, she served as chief of staff for late former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and as past chair for the NJC Board of Trustees. She says that the College provides a learning environment that judges can feel comfortable in.
“Many of the [judges] are elected,” Batjer said, “and if they were struggling with the law or they were struggling with some particularly difficult parts of the law, it was really hard to admit to the district court judges. You could come here, you could learn it, you could admit you didn’t know and you could do things that as a student you couldn’t do in your home state.”
Batjer points out that Raggio’s efforts were essential in bringing that type of learning environment to Nevada.
“[The NJC] just provides,” Batjer said. “Whether it’s distance learning or webinar learning or in-residence learning, this is a jewel, and we wouldn’t exist without Bill Raggio. We wouldn’t.”
During the ceremony, NJC President Chad Schmucker announced that the William J. Raggio Endowment had been established by Dale Raggio to honor his leadership in bringing the College to Nevada and establishing long-term financial support for it.
Schmucker says the endowment, which will support scholarships as well as help the course curriculum stay up-to-date, will highly benefit incoming judges. The Endowment has jumped from the original $25,000 to $160,000, an increase of nearly 540 percent.
Schmucker, who did not personally know Raggio, understands the impact that he had on the NJC. Schmucker believes that in regard to obtaining funding for the College, Raggio was the right person for the job.
“We needed someone with the vision,” Schmucker said. “Obviously as a lawyer, as a prosecutor, he saw the importance of well-functioning courts. He valued that, and we wouldn’t be as vibrant today without his vision.”
Schmucker also believes that Raggio worked hard for Nevada because he was dedicated to seeing the state thrive. He says having the gold standard for judicial education located on UNR’s campus adds to both the university and Reno’s stature as a whole.
Raggio knew the importance of principles, morals and achievement, and he applied those values to his work. It is safe to say that his accomplishments have been thoroughly etched into Nevada’s history.
For more information on the William J. Raggio Endowment or the NJC, go to http://www.judges.org.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.