Thursday, July 25, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Jack Walsh, who as a former Nevada Gaming Commission member helped guide the state into the modern era of gaming, and as general manager of the historic Algiers hotel helped preserve the flavor of old Las Vegas, has died. He was 81.
Friends said Walsh, a life-long Nevadan, went into the hospital this month as a result of a stroke -- a week after his wife of 60 years, Blanche, had been hospitalized. He was in recovery when he died Wednesday at a local hospital.
Funeral services, handled by Palm Mortuary, will be private.
"He was on the commission at an important time in the late 1970s when we were running the mob out of town," said local certified public accountant George Swarts, who served on the commission with Walsh.
"He was a man of few words, but Jack was tough on them (alleged mob figures trying to get into local gaming) and voted against them. He had a consistent interest to clean up gaming. The reason you don't have that element today is because of men like Jack."
Fellow board member and retired Reno attorney Peter Echeverria agreed.
"My fondest memory of Jack is the way he would recite the instance of the applicant who came up for a gaming license," Echeverria said. " Jack would inquire around town -- he knew everyone in town -- and would get the skinny on the applicant that he would present (at the board meetings).
"Jack was really good at that (doing his homework). An applicant couldn't just come before the board, say something and walk away. He had to prove it because Jack generally would have the the stuff to refute it."
Born Dec. 6, 1914, in Tonopah, Walsh moved to Las Vegas in 1941, the year the United States entered World War II.
Soon after, Walsh joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific. After the war, he returned to Las Vegas and joined the Nevada Highway Patrol at a salary of $150 a month.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Walsh served as a department head for the Highway Patrol and for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In 1961, Walsh took a job he would relish for the rest of his life: general manager of the Algiers. The small hotel was built on the north end of the Strip to handle overflow guests of the Thunderbird, which later became the Silverbird, the new El Rancho, and now is closed.
Walsh served as the Thunderbird's general manager in the late 1950s.
For the past 35 years, Walsh, wearing his ever-present white tamoshanter and smoking his ever-lit pipe belching honey cavendish, was as much a fixture at the Algiers as the chandeliers and tiffany lamps that adorn the ceilings and walls of the old hotel.
"He and his wife both lived on the property since the very beginning so he was just the lifeblood of the Algiers," said Marianne Kifer, the owner of the Algiers and the daughter of Marion and Lillian Hicks, who built the Thunderbird and the Algiers.
"He knew everything and knew an awful lot of people in town."
About how her mother relied on Jack, Kifer said: "They were very, very good friends as well. She depended on him for everything -- his business advice and friendship."
"He was sharp and always had a fine intuition on people. He could read people beautifully."
Walsh was a hard-working man.
"I said to him, 'Maybe you and Blanche would like to relax and enjoy,' and he said 'naaah,'" Kifer said. "And I could understand it. He enjoyed it."
Kifer and her ex-husband and business partner, Larry Kifer, who have actually been in charge of operations for quite some time, will continue to run the Algiers.
It was Gov. Mike O'Callaghan who in 1973 named Walsh to the Nevada Gaming Commission, the legislative body charged with the final authority in matters relating to gaming in the state.
Walsh would continue to serve during the administrations of Gov. Robert List and Gov. Richard Bryan, finally retiring in 1985.
"Jack was as steady as a rock," O'Callaghan said. "His knowledge of Nevada's history and people made him invaluable when making gaming policy. No matter how heated a debate became, Jack never lost his composure and he always sought common-sense solutions to problems."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who served with Walsh for four years on the Gaming Commission, also praised Walsh "as an institution in Nevada."
Reid said Walsh expressed "genuine concern for the men and women who keep our hotels and casinos running."
"The dealers, valets and waiters meant just as much to him as the top executives," Reid said. "He loved Nevada and he loved the people who make Nevada such a vibrant place to live and work. I will miss Jack and so will the whole state."
Walsh's reputation for finding simple, workable solutions to complex problems was reflected in the way he managed the Algiers.
When a reporter asked Walsh in 1995 why he kept a turn-of-the century look at the Algiers through the years, he replied: "I like it. A lot of people like it ... There haven't been any big changes. Just pictures and paint."
He is survived by his wife, Blanche Walsh, of Las Vegas.