Nevada loses three wise men: Heller, Lynch & Higgins


From the 3-26-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Many years ago, I watched a TV interview with the great operatic tenor Jan Peerce. He spoke of someone he admired as "a mensch, a whole man." To be called a mensch is perhaps the highest compliment which can be conferred in Yiddish. Becoming a mensch is a lifelong process with the goal of constant improvement.

Our community lost three such men this year.

RALPH HELLER, 65. For almost 10 years, Ralph occupied the south 40 of this page where Ira Hansen now holds forth. Ralph came aboard about a year after I started. We were soon going at each other with hatchets.

It didn't always rise above the personal. It wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining or as much fun without a deft insult or two.

Cross-cutting everything between Ralph and me was a desire to see justice done and to rightly regale any self-righteous rogue who would do otherwise.

My one regret is that a long-discussed promotional photo of the two of us was never taken. An editor had an idea of placing Ralph and me back-to-back, glaring over our shoulders at each other.

The reason it didn't happen came to me shortly after I heard of Ralph's death. The Tribune photo department obviously realized that neither of us would turn his back on the other. Worse, because Ralph's skinny legs (anyone who ever saw Ralph in summertime will back me up) made him a head taller than me, I would have had to stand on something to pose for the shot. The photographers instinctively knew that Ralph Heller would not for a moment allow me to get on my soapbox without his doing the same.

Over the years, he became both my friend and worthy adversary. I liked Ralph because he knew how to start a good fight. The Tribune has not been the same since he left. Over the past few years, he helped me several times on legislative and tax matters. My last letter from Ralph was an apology for a couple of minor typos in a previous communication. It arrived complete with a corrected copy.

Ralph even managed to send me a message after he died when a press clipping arrived from the Dayton Courier. The rural Nevada paper published someone's letter to the editor protesting an array of little-known tax increases imposed on citizens over the past two decades. The levies and large percentages in the letter were instantly recognizable. Ralph started publishing such material soon after he began writing for the Tribune and the idea has taken root all over the state. Ralph had indirectly sent me his final greetings.

His lasting and positive impact on the region continues to be felt in ways familiar to longtime readers.

Ralph was hearing-impaired and long ago began to protest Nevada's continuing extraction of sales taxes on hearing aids and other medically necessary devices. While the Nevada legislature has yet to pass an exemption, Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, has introduced such legislation. The day it becomes law, a large amount of the credit will go to Ralph Heller.

Many years from now, someone yet-unborn will rummage through the archives of the Tribune and see what we said on the great issues of our time.

What that distant reader will not know is the great enjoyment we shared in producing that work which made us friends and colleagues in perpetuity.

Last year, in my columns of June 27 and July 18, I started the Barbwire Great Dissenters Hall of Fame and somehow overlooked Ralph. I herewith remedy the oversight.

DON LYNCH, 84. For the briefest of moments, author and editor Don Lynch contributed a column to the Tribune. He had worked for and owned newspapers in various locales. I first met him in 1971 when he was editor of the morning Nevada State Journal (now the Reno Gazette-Journal). He left a few years later to join the Washoe County School District. I am sure the deal was better for Don, but the paper and its readers were the less for it.

He went on to write books on Nevada history and would occasionally call me while doing research. Don Lynch was everything to which a journalist should aspire. He was approachable and personable, with an avuncular sense of humor. When he wrote a news story, he produced a balanced presentation of facts with no personal opinion interlarded through buzzwords or spin.

PAT HIGGINS, 78. Donald Patrick Higgins was one of the most go-getter leaders Sparks ever saw. Twice a candidate for city office, he worked on many political campaigns and operated a very successful real estate business.

Pat was a big reason why the Sertoma service clubs became so strong in this area. He made it a second full-time job, rising to the level of international director. Pat ran for president of Sertoma International and lost by a single vote in a year when the convention was held in North Carolina and his opponent was a southerner.

He paved the way for Dan Ouimet, another northern Nevadan, to win the prestigious post a few years later. I don't know if Pat ever met Ralph Heller, but I think Ralph would have liked him. Sertoma's principal area of interest lies in raising money to treat speech and hearing defects and Pat raised a lot of it.

Goodbye and godspeed, old friends. You did good.

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© 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 3/26/00.

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