Nevada NewsMakers

Commentary - February 14, 2020 - by Ray Hagar

I had just spoken with Bob Cashell a few weeks ago on the phone. I called to ask if he would serve as master of ceremonies for an upcoming dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Manogue High football state championship won by his good friend, Coach Chris Ault.

Cashell, of course would be anybody's first choice as MC. So glib. So funny. He could light up any room. If he insulted you from the podium, you'd feel honored just to be mentioned.

Yet Bob didn't sound like his usual self when I called. He said he couldn't do it. Said he wasn't feeling well.

I countered that the dinner wasn't until late April and he'd be feeling better by then. Yet he still declined.

It worried me. I texted Coach Ault and he wrote back that I just caught him on a bad day.

Yes, a bad day. When we learned of Bob's passing Tuesday, it was a bad day for all of us who call Reno (or Sparks) our home.

Bob Cashell lived a life full of successful business deals and election victories, a life anyone would envy.

He served three terms as mayor, from 2002 to 2014. He will be remembered by me as Reno's greatest mayor.

Now he's gone. His family must be devastated. Hopefully, they can take solace from the outpouring of love and condolences shown by the community after Bob's death at 81. It's amazing. I have never seen so many social-media posts and tweets devoted to one man. It showed Bob had touched the lives of so many.

Bob knew everybody and everybody knew him. He was the most approachable politician I knew from a 40-year journalism career.

The job of Reno mayor was perfect for Cashell. He was so good at it. He was the public face of Reno.

Boss Cashell. He built coalitions, coaxed business leaders, got opponents and ankle-biters to like him. He gave us the downtown train trench and the Aces ballpark.

Yes, Nevada's U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, gets criticized for her southern accent. But Bob's similar East Texas drawl just added to his persona -- a good-natured 'ol boy in public but a tough negotiator in private.

I first met Bob in the late 1970s, when I was a sportswriter for the RGJ. Bob was a big U. of Nevada athletics booster with a primary focus on the football program, run by Ault, his life-long friend.

Bob loved Ault's program. He build the Nevada football field house that's still in use today.

Bob was quite a player in his day, too. As a high school star in Longview, Texas, Bob was recruited by the legendary Coach 'Bear' Bryant when the 'Bear' coached Texas A&M in the 1950s. Bob, sadly, suffered a major injury during his senior year in high school and never played college football.

Bob made his mark in Nevada when he partnered win Don Carano and Bob McDonald and bought Bill & Effies truck stop-restaurant near Verdi in 1967. Eventually, it turned into Boomtown Casino.

Bob had done his homework on the property before the sale. He convinced Carano and McDonald that it would be a great investment. Of course, he was right.

Bob was a truck driver for the Humble Oil company back then and knew Bill & Effies pumped a lot of gas. Lots of trucks stopped there. He saw the potential others missed. He built a hotel and casino. It became the first Reno-area resort-casino that California customers saw driving in from the San Francisco and Sacramento markets. A trucker's Taj Mahal. It was a booming property.

When Boomtown Casino was sold in 1988 (for an estimated $50 million), the dollar amounts on bonus checks Bob gave to many employees were astronomical, by some accounts.

Bob was like that, very generous, one of Reno's top philanthropists. He helped the homeless, Catholic Charities and Casa de Vida Home for Unwed Mothers and others.

He got into politics in the late 1970s. He won a race for the Nevada Board of Regents in 1978 and helped get Lawlor Events Center built, along with the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. He also pushed for athletic teams of UNLV and Nevada to play each other annually.

He won election as Nevada's lieutenant governor in 1983. He told me later he hated it. Had to find things to do. It led to Cashell leading the way in forming the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. Today, both are critical state government entities.

Bob shot from the hip early in his political career. Sometimes he'd hit his foot. He switched from a East Texas Democrat to a Reno Republican soon after his election as lieutenant governor. He had become enamored with Ronald Reagan after meeting the President in the Oval Office.

When he later became mayor of Reno in 2002, he had honed his political skills to a sharp edge. As mayor, he hung a photo of himself with Reagan on the wall of his office.

In 2005, I did a story for the RGJ about the possibility of Cashell running for governor. Outgoing Gov. Kenny Guinn was trying to recruit him.

Bob said he really wanted to run. However, Nancy Cashell, his wife since 1964, was not keen on the idea, Bob told me. So he didn't do it.

Once, I rode with him in his Caddy through a homeless camp in downtown Reno. I wondered how the homeless would react to Bob rollin' through their 'hood. Many came right up to Bob's driver's side window to greet him, shook his hand and wished him well. I thought, wow, this guy really is the mayor for all of Reno.

After I retired in 2015, we'd go to lunch at the Coney Island, along with our friend, author/historian Guy Clifton. Somebody else would always pick up the check. Bob was royalty. Sandwich and a Coke. Seemed he never paid for a lunch at the Coney.

Guy and I would sit on either side of Bob at the Coney.

Bob would talk. We'd listen. We'd laugh. Bob was a great story teller.

How I cherish, now, memories of hanging out with Bob at the Coney. We're all gonna miss him so.