State Sen. Debbie Smith of Sparks was remembered Monday for her fierce support of education as well as her courage and upbeat spirit during her struggle with brain cancer.
Smith died Sunday at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, officials announced. She was 60. The longtime state legislator is survived by her husband Greg and three children—Erin, Ian and Olivia.
The family announced that a public memorial service will be held on Sunday at Sparks High School beginning at noon.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Smith’s name to the Dr. Marnie Rose Foundation, which supports brain tumor research. Donations can be made online at the following link: https://drmarnierosefoundation.racepartner.com/debbiesmith
Smith underwent surgery last February at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to have a malignant brain tumor removed. She returned to her legislative duties two months later and was warmly greeted by her colleagues and others.
In March, Smith spoke to the Sparks Tribune via telephone from Houston during her recovery.
“I’m trying to be the best patient I can be and do everything that’s expected of me so my recovery goes the way it should,” she said at the time. “I feel very fortunate to have been treated here with so much talent and good research going on.”
She also spoke of the support she had been receiving. “I’ve had cards and letter from people I’ve never met. Many of them are from Sparks. So I just want to say ‘thank you.’ The volume of cards, posters, food delivered to the family has really helped shore me up.”
Political leaders from across the state expressed their condolences, with all of them citing Smith’s dedication to education—perhaps her greatest legacy— from her time as president of the Nevada PTA to her 14 years in the Nevada Legislature, first as a Democratic member of the Assembly and then as a member of the Senate.
Gov. Brian Sandoval called Smith an “extraordinary public servant whose record of accomplishments and presence in the Nevada Legislature will remain unmatched in the years ahead.”
“Today we remember her legacy as a true Nevadan with a fierce devotion to her constituents and state, particularly to public education and the children of Nevada,” the governor said in a statement. “I will personally miss her greatly, and Nevada will miss her leadership.”
Sandoval ordered all flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of Smith’s funeral.
Congressman Mark Amodei, who worked alongside Smith in the Legislature, called Smith a respected colleague and a dear friend.
“As a dedicated public servant with a huge heart for children and families, Debbie fought tirelessly to ensure every child in Nevada received a great education,” Amodei said. “Nevada will undoubtedly benefit from her courageous leadership and unwavering devotion to her constituents and state. Her work has touched the lives of many and she will be sorely missed.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid described Smith as “epitome of an ideal neighbor, friend and public servant.”
“A believer in the good of government, Debbie’s advocacy for adequately funding our education system will be felt in Nevada for a long time,” Reid said. “Northern Nevadans, no matter what party, had a fighter in the Legislature. Despite her difficult year, her positive outlook on life was admirable to all. She was my friend and I will miss her.”
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini expressed his gratitude for Smith’s advocacy on behalf of Sparks residents, saying she was not only a champion of education but also a champion of her city.
“She fought for our citizens every day,” Martini said. “She was so brave and strong as she battled her illness publicly. Senator Smith is a great Nevadan who will be missed but will never be forgotten.”
Smith was elected to the Nevada Assembly in 2000 and eventually was named chairman of that body’s Ways & Means Committee and speaker pro tempore. She was elected to the state Senate in 2012 and held the posts of assistant majority leader, assistant minority leader and chair of the Senate Finance Committee.