Barbara Vucanovich passes away

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Updated: 6/13/2013 3:33 pm
RENO, Nev. (KRNV & - Barbara Vucanovich, the first woman to serve Nevada in Congress has passed away.

Nevada NewsMakers host Sam Shad has learned the "The Fighting Grandmother" passed away Monday morning after a brief illness. 

Vucanovich a Representative from Nevada was born Barbara Farrell in Camp Dix, New Jersey, June 22, 1921. Vucanovich was the daughter of Major General Thomas Farrell, a noted U.S. Army figure during World War II, and Ynez White Farrell, a member of one of Southern California’s founding families. Raised in New York State, Vucanovich graduated from the Albany Academy for Girls and attended Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York.

In the late 1940s, Vucanovich moved to Reno, where she met attorney Ken Dillon, Sr. and they were married in 1950. The couple quickly became involved in Republican politics. Following Dillon’s death in 1964, Vucanovich later married George Vucanovich, a native of Tonopah, who died in 1998.

Vucanovich’s early political career is most closely associated with U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt. She worked on several of Laxalt’s campaigns and, when he was elected to the Senate in 1974, she became his Northern Nevada district representative and served in that capacity until 1981.

She was elected as a Republican in 1982 and served in office from January 3, 1983 to January 3, 1997.

Vucanovich first served on the House Interior Committee, an important assignment for rural constituents concerned with mining, grazing, and water issues. Among the bills she authored and saw enacted into law were the Source Tax – to prevent other states from collecting taxes on the pension and retirement benefits of retirees, many of whom had moved to Nevada – and the repeal of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.

As she gained seniority, Vucanovich served on the House Appropriations Committee and later chaired the Subcommittee on Military Construction. She supported equal treatment and pay for women and funding for early screening, detection, and treatment of breast cancer. She was elected Republican Conference Secretary (one of the four leadership positions) in the 104th Congress, making her the first Nevadan to serve in a leadership position in House of Representatives.

Vucanovich served on the Presidential Debate Commission, the Commission to Select White House Fellows, and the Fund Board of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Justices. She was a trustee on the Board of Saint Mary’s Health Network and the Board of Casa de Vida, a home for unwed mothers, and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The University of Nevada, Reno awarded her an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities in 2004. The main post office in Reno was named the Barbara F. Vucanovich Post Office in her honor.

Shad described Vucanovich as "believing in every issue with her heart". When it came to compromise, Shad said she "always did what was best for Nevada."

Vucanovich is survived by her daughter Patricia Dillon Cafferata and son-in-law Dr. H. Treat Cafferata of Reno; son Kenneth P. Dillon, Jr. and daughter-in-law Sandra Dillon of Reno; son Tom Dillon and daughter-in-law Catherine deTar Dillon of Statesville, North Carolina; daughter Susan Dillon Anderson and son-in-law Grant “Butch” Anderson III of Reno; brother Stephen Farrell of Reno; 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a son, Michael F. Dillon, Sr.; a grandson, Trevor P. Dillon; and a great-grandson, Thomas Daniel Golden.

Her family issued the following statement:

“Barbara Vucanovich enjoyed her years of service to the people of Nevada, and like other Nevadans we are immensely proud of all she accomplished. We also know that while Barbara was deeply honored to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, her family always came first. Perhaps that is why she was so admired as a politician. We will miss her and we wish to extend our thanks to everyone for their support during this time of loss.”

Vucanovich was a Roman Catholic. A viewing and recitation of the rosary will be held Thursday, June 13 at Our Lady of the Snows Church in Reno; viewing begins at 5:00 p.m. followed by the rosary at 7:00 p.m. A funeral Mass of Resurrection will be held at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Reno at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 14. A reception celebrating Vucanovich’s life will follow at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, beginning at 4:00 p.m. Burial services are private.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to Casa de Vida, 1290 Mill Street, Reno, NV 89502 or the Nevada Women’s History Project, 770 Smithridge Drive #300, Reno, NV 89502. The family invites condolence messages in the “family guestbook” at the website Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Walton Funeral Home in Reno.

Former U.S. Senator Richard Bryan released this statement on the passing of Barbara Vucanovich:

“Barbara Vucanovich shattered the 'glass ceiling' as the first woman to be elected to Congressional office in Nevada. As a loyal Republican, she toiled in the political vineyard for many Republicans, most notably Paul Laxalt. She was from the old school of Nevada politics where partisan differences never interfered with personal relationships across the political aisle. Some of my most pleasant memories of my years in Washington are the social events that Bonnie and I enjoyed with Barbara and George. Nevada and the Nation miss those days when political differences could be civil and never mean spirited.”

Today, Representative Steven Horsford (NV-4) released the following statement regarding the passing of Barbara Vucanovich:

“I am incredibly saddened by the news of Barbara Vucanovich's passing today. She was a trailblazer who broke the congressional glass ceiling in Nevada. As the first woman in Congress from Nevada, and the first Nevadan in House leadership, she set an example for every public servant from Nevada following in her footsteps.

"She was tough: a breast cancer survivor who lived nearly 30 years after her diagnosis who also never missed a vote during her recovery from surgery. She was fair-minded, conservative and consistent, and she will be missed.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Barbara's family and friends."

The following is a statement from the Washoe County Republican Party on the passing of Barbara Vucanovich

We are deeply saddened at the loss of Barbara Vucanovich. Congresswoman Vucanovich was an inspiration to so many people throughout the years. She was also a model statesman and great example for all politicians who followed her.

Establishing herself as a leader in Congress, she was instrumental in repealing the 55 mph speed limit, a major force in forming the Contract With America with Newt Gingrich and a member of the Appropriations Committee chairing its subcommittee on Military Construction.

This past summer the Washoe County Republican Party was honored to have hosted a tribute to Barbara’s career and to thank her for her contributions to Nevada and our county. The event included messages from Governor Mitt Romney, Governor Brian Sandoval, Senator Richard Bryan and many others.

Barbara remained very active in the Republican Party and was one of the first people candidates talked to before deciding to run for office. She was present at party functions and was a featured guest at many of the Romney events in Washoe County this past election cycle.

Nevada has lost a remarkable person and we offer our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to her family.

Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange released the following statement upon the passing of Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich:

“As Nevada’s first female Congresswoman, Barbara Vucanovich served as an inspiration to millions of Nevadans. Congresswoman Vucanovich was a fine public servant and a role model to countless Nevada women who went on to run for office themselves. My thoughts and prayers are with Barbara’s family in this difficult time.”

Congressman Mark Amodei (NV-2) today issued the following statement regarding the passing of former U.S. Representative Barbara F. Vucanovich:

“As the first person to hold Nevada's Second Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Barbara set the standard for effective public service with humility. Nevadans have never been better represented than when Barbara Vucanovich was their Congresswoman. She was a true Nevadan and public servant. Her contributions to the Silver State are a lasting legacy. My sincere condolences to her family.”

Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) issued the following statement regarding the passing of former Representative Barbara Vucanovich:

“With the passing of Barbara Vucanovich, the Silver State has lost one of its finest and most well-respected Nevadans. During one of my first trips to Washington, Barbara took me, a complete stranger, to lunch in the Congressional dining hall. Ever since that day, I have admired her and valued her wisdom, experience and friendship. Barbara always stressed that constituent services and responding directly to Nevadans’ needs are the most important responsibilities of public service. Grateful for that advice, I took it to heart and have always tried to follow the high standard she set. Lynne’s and my thoughts and prayers are with Barbara’s family and friends as we join them to mourn the loss of this great Nevadan,” said Senator Dean Heller.

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Speed - 6/10/2013 2:05 PM
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She'll be missed by many of us who remember her. My Mother used to speak with her by phone quite frequently,and greatly admired her. Rest in Peace,Barb,and say Hi to Mom...

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