Rosalie Beasley — an old friend forever young

Expanded from the Sunday, 2-29-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
3-4-2004 Comstock Chronicle

        "Any Nevadan who has opened up a power bill for the last twenty-plus years should know that it would be worse without Rosalie Beasley."
— Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno

Your friend and mine Rosalie Beasley passed away at St. Mary's Hospital last Sunday. The longtime Sparks resident and community sparkplug died peacefully in her 81st year, but that magnificent redhead's lifetime illustrated so much of what Nevada became.

Rosalie Beasley at a class reunion in Elko a few years ago.
(Photo courtesy of Jim Wilson and D.D. Wing)


Rosalie was drop-dead gorgeous till the day she died. Even in her 50s, when I first met her, she retained an effervescent, little-girl quality which she never lost. Her eternal youth was captured in a face which always retained a shadow of teenaged innocence, even in her waning years when she required extra oxygen to sustain one of those trademark pepgirl laughs. I will always remember Rosalie as spectacular in a white summer dress with a hat to match, all tailored to perfectly present that red hair.

Born Rosalie Cavendar in Westwood, Calif., she grew up in Elko, an unlikely place to find early signs of women's rights. In 1944, Nevada gambling legend Newt Crumley made Rosalie Beasley Elko County's first female casino dealer, just after she turned 21.

Rosalie continued to work for Crumley when he later opened the Holiday Hotel (now the Siena) in downtown Reno. She did a short stint at the Mapes, then started a long run at the legendary Harolds Club.

After Harold Smith, Sr., made the major error of selling Harolds to Howard Hughes and his corporate weasels, Rosalie and many of her friends migrated to the Riverside when former Harolds keno concessionaire Jessie Beck took over the venerable hotel in 1971. Rosalie and many of the Harolds Club alumni moved to the Sundowner several years later, where some stayed until the hotel closed last year.

Last Wednesday at Rosalie's house in Sparks, ex-Harolds clubbers, including Laura June Smith-Barnes, gathered to remember their friend. (Rosalie's companion, former UNR football star Jim Wilson, told me that Rosalie is mentioned several times, with photos, in Duane Kling's "A Family Affair," a history of Harolds Club. I'm looking for a good shot or two of Rosalie to post with the Internet edition of this column. Anybody who has such, please contact me.)

I first saw Rosalie Beasley on television in 1980. She had marshalled a group of her friends to circulate a petition protesting skyrocketing utility rates.

At the time, I was working with future Sen. Townsend, community activist (and future Tribune columnist) Orland T. Outland
, Assemblymembers Tod Bedrosian, D-Reno, and Peggy Westall, D-Sparks, to do something with more teeth — a statewide initiative petition to force the Nevada legislature to create a consumer advocate's office. Rosalie's activities certainly convinced us that the time was right. Her protest petition popped up everywhere in the region. I ran across it in printshops, gas stations and barbershops.

We knew we needed to talk with this lady. She quickly agreed to make common cause with us and a statewide campaign was launched.

"If it weren't for Rosalie Beasley, we would probably never have been able to succeed in creating the consumer advocate's function," Sen. Townsend told me last week. "I'd still be driving race cars and teaching school," he noted wistfully. (By the way: there is no truth to the legend that Townsend rolled Rosalie's camper truck on a very windy day as our petition caravan rolled toward Fallon. The driver's identity has been witheld by request.)

Townsend fondly remembered "her commitment, personality and willingness to give of herself so that people would have representation. She was a key component in its creation and success. It wouldn't have happened without her," he added.

Current consumer advocate Timothy Hay said "Rosalie was a true inspiration to us all. She not only represented the best grassroots traditions in her efforts to establish the consumer advocate's office, but she also remained active and committed until the end of her life. Her fire will be sorely missed," Hay stated.

Rosalie came out of retirement in 2001, spitting mad that we apparently had to re-fight Sierra Pacific Power battles we thought we'd won long ago. She became a founding director of the Nevada Utility Reform Alliance, showing up — oxygen tank and all — to a formative meeting on an appropriately stormy day.

"It was an honor to be exposed to her fire," said NURAy chairman Charles Laws.

Rosalie's statements before the Public Utilities Commission made statewide news. "Members of this commission have asserted that an audit will be done after the fact to ensure that these increases were necessary. That is akin to paying off a jackpot before the handle is pulled," she scolded in vintage Rosalie style.

Rosalie changed Sparks political history. In 1980, right-winger Janine Hansen, running as a Democrat, had pretty much whipped powerful Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Don Mello, D-Sparks, in the September primary. Rosalie knew that Janine had the right position on utilities and was prepared to take a dozen of her friends on precinct walks in the final days. Bedrosian and I advised her to campaign for Mello, who had the clout to move a consumer advocate bill forward in a legislature which had consistently killed the concept for two decades.

Rosalie campaigned for Mello, who narrowly escaped defeat.

Perhaps my favorite Rosalie story happened before the Elko County Commission in 1980. The local power system was for sale and we went there to present the idea of a public takeover rather than letting it fall to the Sierra Pacific bandidos. We got a very cold shower. Commissioner John Carpenter called us "socialists." Rosalie, who had gone to high school with him, took it lightly, feeling that he'd eventually come around.

Years later, no less than Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, led the fight to keep Elko's hospital from being privatized because he saw public ownership as being in the best interests of his constituents.

Rosalie had won again.

Be well. Raise hell.

The Rosalie Files

A timely idea just 20 years in the making
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-17-2002

Who are you going to believe — me or your own eyes?
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-10-2002

Proposed rate increase hearing draws angry crowd
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-4-2002

Kilowatts convert conservative cowboys to socialism
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-17-2001 Energy Crisis War Room | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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