By Andrew Barbano
If you met Bob Price when I first did in 1975, you would not have concluded that he was a union electrician or a Nevada legislator.
When’s the last time you saw a white guy in bell bottoms with a huge Afro?
Bob Price was about as conventional as a Martian convention. He played mean guitar and led sing-alongs with his fellow lawmakers on the Nevada Assembly floor during late-night end-of-session delays. He also made sure staff got paid for their overtime.
Bob died of an apparent heart attack at his Sparks home on Jan. 4. He was 82.
He represented a North Las Vegas district from 1974 to 2002. The liberal Democrat served on every legislative committee and rose to chair the powerful Assembly Committee on Taxation. He and his wife, Nancy, a former university regent, relocated to Sparks after retirement. A North Las Vegas park and recreation center was dedicated in his name in 2007. A memorial celebration will be held there at 2:00 p.m. on Jan. 19.
He was a member of Las Vegas IBEW Local 357/AFL-CIO for more than half a century including service as the union’s elected business manager. His proudest possession was a lunch pail signed by Elvis Presley who visited with Price and his fellow workers during the 1969-70 construction of the International Hotel showroom (now the Las Vegas Hilton).
“We were on break from wiring the theater when The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll walked in to look at the work in progress,” Price remembered.
“He sat down with us for awhile and you’ve never met a nicer guy. I had a pen but no paper, so I had him sign the lid to my lunchbox,” he added.
Price was inducted into the César Chávez Nevada Labor Hall of Fame in 2011 and will be memorialized at Chávez Celebration XVII at the Grand Sierra-Reno on March 28.
Former State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, served with Price for 28 years.
“He assisted me in integrating Local 357,” Neal said.
“It was Bob who gave me the idea that the base point for integration of the building trades unions required getting enough minority members to affect union elections,” Neal added. Nevada’s first African-American senator will lead the memorial proceedings for his fellow César Chávez Hall of Famer next March.
In his later years, Price suffered through serious health problems. His family threw a last birthday party for him in 2016 at Manor Care in Sparks because they feared he might not see another. I attended. He proved everyone wrong.
It was not the first time Bob beat the reaper. In 1998, he made national headlines when he suffered a heart attack on a plane arriving at the Reno airport. He was revived by quick-thinking Rosalind Clarke of Aptos, Calif., who learned CPR because of witnessing her father’s death as a child. She had never used her training before that day. Price underwent a triple heart bypass shortly thereafter. (Barbwire 4-5-1998)
Bob’s union passions pre-empted pain. Several years ago, Nancy picked up Bob from a short hospital stay to bring him home. Instead, he insisted on going straight to that evening’s César Chávez event. Even wheelchair-bound, he attended every subsequent César celebration through last March.
Price sometimes paid a heavy price. Because he refused to allow regressive sales taxes through his committee, Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, removed special interest taxation from Price’s taxation committee so that Nevada’s tradition of taxing those least able to pay could continue.
Majority Leader Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, unceremoniously informed Bob of the almost unheard-of maneuver. Adding insult to injury, Perkins barred Price from bringing his guitar to entertain his colleagues during long end-of-session breaks.
Reno casinos thus got the downtown railroad trench for which they were not willing to pay. City of Reno taxpayers will continue to pay a heavy price for decades to come. The city has long been in default because the trench taxes which Price opposed have not covered construction loan payments.
In 1990, the gambling-industrial complex conducted a scorched-earth primary campaign against Bob for proposing an amendment to stop casinos from contributing to political campaigns because they are a regulated industry. He was the only candidate I endorsed that year.
Price defeated the casino candidate by 31 votes and returned the favor. For the rest of his career, he introduced legislation to protect employees from arbitrary firings, instead requiring just cause for termination. Nevada remains a fire-at-will state in which non-union workers have few rights.
Price’s daughter Teresa continues her father’s advocacy and has long been an activist against smoking in gambling halls.
Her dad facilitated passage of ethics legislation, sunshine laws providing for more government transparency, and re-naming Nevada State Route 375 as the Extraterrestrial Highway. When the state formally christened the central Nevada road in 1996, several cast members of the soon-to-be-released movie blockbuster “Independence Day” showed up. Not to be outdone, the onetime Nevada Nuclear Test Site electrician donned a Darth Vader helmet and upstaged the stars. The Hollywood media machine made Darth Price an international celebrity for about 15 minutes.
Robert Earle Price, Jr., was born May 23, 1936, in DeLand, Florida, or so he thought. The 1940 U.S. Census states he was born in Texas. Neither state has a record. Thus are legends born.
Bob Price and the Gambling Ranch Hands was a TV show when Las Vegas had only one television station. (No wonder he got along with Elvis.)
Like other guitar players, “Bob married a blonde, a brunette and a redhead, not necessarily in that order,” Nancy Price quips. She served six years as an elected university regent and retired as an Air National Guard chief master sergeant. Legend has it that tiny Nancy can shoot both eyes out of a one-eyed jack at 300 yards, which explains why it’s hard to find a complete deck of cards at Chez Price in Sparks.
Bob qualified for a private pilot’s license and co-owned several light aircraft.
“My husband Bob made people laugh, the greatest gift one can give,” Nancy Price muses.
Nevadans will long remember the great gift of Bob Price passing thru their lives.
Photos and additional references for the above will be linked to this column at NevadaLabor.com/ Remembrances may be sent to me.
“Another Elvis has left the building,” one friend wrote.
To paraphrase Neil Young, long may he strum.
Be well. Raise hell, old friend. Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 50-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com/ E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.