A Model of Integrity

Gene Segerblom, a lifelong teacher and longtime legislator, died on January 4 at age 94. She lived well, traveled widely and did everything she wanted to do, except stay around longer. Her husband Cliff was an artist, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith described her Boulder City home as “one part poem, one part art museum.” You can be a politician and still be interested in other things.

Gene (I knew her, and I’ll call her by first name) is a reminder that the people we elect to office—even the people who run for office—are flesh-and-blood human beings with families. Her son, Tick, is an accomplished attorney who has served in the Legislature since 2007. Her daughter, Robin, is an emerita professor of urban planning at UCLA. Their children are well educated and active. Do we stop to think that when we blister an officeholder or office-seeker, that person has to share that burden with others? Gene wasn’t a hater, and didn’t want anyone else to be, either.

Gene served on the Boulder City Council and spent four terms in the state Assembly from 1993 to 2000. She served her district—she was proud of getting a DMV for Laughlin—and was an ardent advocate for the arts, history and the environment. After losing in her final two campaigns, she concentrated on community good works, such as the Boulder Dam Hotel and the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. You can serve without being in office or running for it.

She was the third of four generations in her family to serve in the Legislature, following in the footsteps of her grandfather and her mother. We often hear that family dynasties are bad, but they don’t have to be; it depends on what they want to accomplish, whether they want to be in office to preserve a legacy or to preserve a way of life. Gene and Tick show that parents and children can go into politics and not just do well, but also do good.

She overcame obstacles. Gene was born before women had the right to vote and grew up in a Nevada that took pride in how little it offered its populace. She became a schoolteacher and wrote freelance articles when women still had to fight for the right to be heard. Gene fought that fight and remained a lady not just because she had to be, but because she chose to be.

She was a teacher not only in the classroom but outside of it. One of her former students at Boulder City High School, Sally Denton—who grew up to become a renowned journalist and member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame—defined a good teacher when she said of Gene that she “taught all of us Boulder City kids how to think, how to navigate politics with moral integrity, if not what to think.” That’s what a good teacher does, inside and outside of the classroom. We can present facts, interpret them, even present a point of view. But above all, we need to make sure students have the tools to decide for themselves. Gene did that and decided for herself—and kept doing that long after she had been in the classroom.

One of her lessons was that community matters more than party. The people who met around her dining-room table to plan events and activities included Democrats, Republicans, independents and for all I know a Whig or two. What mattered to them was saving a building, or protecting the environment, or preserving and promoting history.

I didn’t spend enough time with her, but I spent enough to know that if you couldn’t learn from Gene Segerblom, you couldn’t learn, whether it was to appreciate a painting or a policy, a building or Boulder City, or the rest of Nevada, and she did it all without spilling a drop. When friends gathered to toast her, they agreed that she broke the mold—but she also molded us.