By Lamar Marchese
My good friend and noted Nevada historian Frank Wright died last Friday. He was a teacher, museum curator, researcher, writer, preservationist, piano player, historian, husband, father and grandfather. He owned a luxurious moustache that he hid behind as an unassuming observer of the foibles and missteps and occasional triumphs that make up local history. His most defining characteristic was his deep felt belief in the value of the past...in a town that regularly celebrates destroying what little of it we have left.
He came to Las Vegas 35 years ago to teach at UNLV and later worked at the Nevada State Museum as curator of education. He got his academic education in Utah and his street smarts from spending several years as the hotel manager at Binion's Horseshoe where he learned the peculiar ways of gamblers and ruthless self made casino moguls.
In 1987 Frank became the researcher and writer of Nevada Yesterdays, a once weekly vignette of interesting moments in Nevada history on KNPR. He combed the archives of the state museum to come up with nuggets of interesting information such as how Clark County got carved out of Lincoln County to payoff the debt on the Million Dollar Court House boondoggle. His writing was popular and accessible, often spotlighting some of the many colorful characters that people the history of our region and our state.
With so many new residents moving into southern Nevada, Frank and the station believed that a local history series on the radio was a good way of educating listeners to the rich history of Nevada, beyond the rise of the modern casino era in the late 1940's.
Frank was a willing consultant to movie and TV productions, newspaper reporters,
novelists and foreign journalists who would rather call Frank and pick his brain than spend a lot of time digging through source material. Frank was also an optimistic preservationist. He conducted walking tours of the Las Vegas High School neighborhood, he served on the City of Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission, which dithered away for years drafting ordinances that went nowhere and providing political cover for politicians who didn't want to upset property owners. Most recently he served on the Board of the Neon Museum.
Frank retired a year ago from the state museum with plans to turn all those years of Nevada Yesterday scripts into a book after having been diagnosed with cancer in 2001. As so often happens to new retirees he had a relapse and began the long process of surgery and chemotherapy and doctors and hospitalization. He spent his last month at home working on his laptop organizing and editing his book. He didn't get to finish it but his wife Dorothy will put the finishing touches on it to provide a fitting final chapter to his legacy as being THE best local historian in Las Vegas.
Besides his professional credentials Frank was a true and loyal friend to my family and me and to Las Vegas. He was a treasure of useful and intriguing information and the epitome of a selfless teacher and historian who worked tirelessly to define and explain how we got to where we are. He made our community a richer and better place to live. I will miss him.