LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevadans and Washington leaders bid farewell to former U.S. Senator Harry Reid on Saturday, during a memorial at The Smith Center for Performing Arts in Las Vegas.
President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama were among the dignitaries who were in attendance, in addition to Reid’s family and friends.
Reid, who was 82, lost his four-year battle with pancreatic cancer on Dec. 28, closing the final chapter on an incredible life journey that took him from his humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada to becoming the U.S. Senate majority leader, one of the country’s most powerful political positions.
Reid became the Senate majority leader in 2007, during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush, and held the position, through much of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, until 2015 when the Republicans took over the Senate. He retired in 2017.
Obama always credited Reid with encouraging him to run for president. Upon learning of his death, he shared a letter he had recently written to Reid which talked about him not only being a “great leader” but also a good friend.
“As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other – a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little guy. And you know what, we made for a pretty good team.”— Former President Barack Obama
Reid, a Democrat, was Nevada’s longest-serving member of Congress. He was known to be a tough dealmaker during his more than four decades of public service.
Reid’s successor, Sen. Charles Schumer, said Reid “was tough-as-nails strong, but caring and compassionate, and always went out of his way quietly to help people who needed help.”
During Saturday’s service, Schumer recalled Reid once gave him $400 to buy a new pair of shoes.
“You know, you’ve been working hard and doing a lot of the right things to be Democratic leader, but you need to dress better, please buy some better shoes,” Schumer recalled Reid telling him.
Obama, who delivered the eulogy, remembered his friend who helped him achieve much of his presidential accomplishments.
“Harry was the first to admit he was not the most charismatic or politically correct speaker,” Obama said. “But Harry knew who he was, and he had the distinct advantage of not really carrying what people thought about him.”
The former president noted Reid’s rise from a small town an hour south of Las Vegas to the halls of Washington.
Biden first met Reid in the 1980s when they served together in the Senate.
“The thing about Harry: he never gave up. He never gave up. He never gave up on the people he cared about,” Biden said.
Biden spent much of his speech recognizing his close friendship with Reid, including fighting political battles and their personal phone conversations.
“It was all Searchlight, no spotlight,” Biden said about Reid’s drive to enact change on a local and national landscape. “He was proof that there is nothing ordinary about America.”
Reid helped pass major legislation such as the Affordable Care Act to overhaul the health insurance market and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to stimulate the economy during the Great Recession. He also halted a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, brought the DREAM Act to a vote, and is credited with keeping some massive local construction projects alive during the Great Recession, including the expansion of what is now known as the Harry Reid International Airport.
The name of the airport was officially changed a few weeks before Reid’s death. Although he didn’t attend the renaming ceremony, he said in a statement, “it’s the greatest of honors to have my name on this airport.”
After getting a law degree, Reid started his public service career as the Henderson city attorney. At age 28, He was elected to the Nevada Assembly and at age 30 became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history as Gov. Mike O’Callaghan’s running mate in 1970. O’Callaghan, who had been his high school boxing coach, encouraged him to get into politics and became a lifelong mentor to him.
In 1982, Reid was elected to the U.S. House and then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 where he served until 2017.
Reid was married to his high school sweetheart Landra Gould for 62 years. The two eloped and went on to have five children, four sons, and one daughter.
“He was a devoted family man and deeply loyal friend,” she said in a statement following his death.
Reid, who was raised agnostic, and his wife Landra, who was born to Jewish immigrant parents, converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in college.
Reid will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. He will then he buried in Searchlight.