Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2018

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Longtime LV attorney, regent Foley dies

Joe Foley wasn't afraid to speak his mind, and at times took heat for his outspoken views and fighting spirit.

As a university regent he received much scorn after popular University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian left in 1991. Foley supported his ouster, saying the team's academic success failed to measure up to its on-court achievement of winning the NCAA basketball title in 1990.

Joseph Michael Foley died of heart failure Monday at his home after reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Footsteps of Angels," which says, in part, "He, the young and strong, who cherished noble longings for the strife, by the roadside fell and perished, weary with the march of life." Foley was 78.

Services for the native Nevadan and Las Vegas resident of 74 years will be 1 p.m. Friday at St. Anne's Catholic Church at Maryland Parkway and St. Louis Avenue. A rosary will be said at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Interment will be in Woodlawn Cemetery. Palm Mortuary is handling the arrangements.

A longtime attorney, Foley served as Howard Hughes' gaming lawyer and, after the reclusive billionaire's death, he represented the estate in efforts that debunked the so-called "Mormon Will" in a case that was recounted in the film "Melvin and Howard."

Foley was a member of one of Southern Nevada's most influential families. He was the son of Roger T. Foley, who was appointed a federal judge by President Franklin Roosevelt; the brother of late federal Judge Roger D. Foley, late District Court Judge Tom Foley, former District Attorney George Foley and former state Sen. John Foley; and the father of former state Sen. Helen Foley.

"My father was not afraid to make enemies and, if he was your attorney, he would fight for you like a bulldog," Helen Foley said. "He valued education, especially to help those in the prison system and on Indian reservations.

"Dad never missed a Rebel game, but first and foremost he supported higher education and thought UNLV should be more than just a Southern Nevada team."

Two-term Nevada Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, the Sun's executive editor, said Foley, his neighbor, "always had time to pass along a joke or offer a kind word of encouragement. His public service has been a shining light" for Nevada.

"He was a great human being," Regent Jill Derby agreed, "in some ways larger than life. He always said exactly what he thought but had a very big heart."

Born Jan. 31, 1924, in Goldfield, he was the fourth son of Roger Foley and the former Helen Drummond. Four years later the family moved to Las Vegas. Foley attended Fifth Street Grammar School and graduated from Las Vegas High in 1941.

During World War II Foley served in the Army in North Africa.

Former Regent Dorothy Gallagher said she first met Foley after he returned from the war and enrolled as a student at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"At the time it was a big adjustment for him," she said. "There were veterans who were coming back and they were three years older than the seniors who were graduating. But Joe managed to adjust and he made a lot of friends."

Foley graduated from UNR and, in 1950, got his law degree from the University of San Francisco Law School. He passed the bar that year and went into practice in Las Vegas with brother Tom.

At one time all five brothers worked for the Foley Bros. law firm before political ambitions sent them on their individual paths. Joe Foley, a Democrat, was regional coordinator for the presidential campaigns of John Kennedy in 1960 and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

In the 1970s Foley represented Hughes in his mining and gaming interests, which included the Frontier, Sands and Desert Inn. Foley represented Hughes' employees seeking key gaming licenses before state gaming regulators.

Foley later represented Hughes' estate against a suspicious will that surfaced after Hughes' death, leaving part of the vast fortune to Melvin Dummar, a Gabbs resident and service station operator who claimed he once found Hughes wandering in the desert and gave him a lift back to his Las Vegas hotel.

Foley prevailed in that case.

In 1984 Foley opened the firm Foley & Foley with his son Dan Foley. That year he ran for regent, making it clear he would work to change UNLV's image from a basketball school to a respected center of higher learning.

"At other institutions, educators are proud of a school's athletic tradition and their coaches are equally boastful of the school's academic achievements," Foley said during the campaign. "We must see that this spirit of cooperation is felt at our universities because the two should complement one another."

Foley, who was re-elected to a second six-year term in 1990, was a strong supporter of then-UNLV President Bob Maxson, who had feuded with Tarkanian.

Foley was targeted by Tarkanian's supporters as a main cause for the legendary coach's departure -- so much so, they started a recall effort against him. In 1993 a judge threw out the recall petition.

Gallagher recalled that period: "I couldn't believe it, I got death threats. It was just a very tumultuous time. But Joe Foley was a man of conviction. He would stand up for what he believed, even if he was all alone."

Foley remained active with the regents after he left, counseling his successors at times on important issues.

"He took an active interest and he always called me up after a regents meeting," Regent Steve Sisolak said.

Regent Mark Alden said Foley took him aside and taught him how to be a regent.

"He taught me to be a good listener, not a good talker," Alden said.

Though Foley took few cases in recent years, he remained a consultant with his law firm until his death.

For more than 15 years Foley was a member or chairman of the administrative committee of the Nevada State Bar Association's Southern Nevada region.

As a civic leader, Foley chaired fund-raising drives for the March of Dimes, United Way and Boy Scouts. He served more than 20 years as legal counsel to Catholic Welfare of Nevada and St. Rose Dominican Hospital.

In addition to his surviving brothers, daughter and son, all of Las Vegas, Foley is survived by his wife of 52 years, Betty Bradshaw Foley, of Las Vegas; three other daughters, Jeanne Clarke and attorney Shannon Lyman, both of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Kathleen Meyer of Sunland, Calif.; another son, Patrick Foley of Las Vegas; and 16 grandchildren.

Foley was preceded in death by two sons, Joseph Michael Foley Jr., who died of leukemia at age 4, and Timothy Foley, who died in infancy; and a daughter, Mary Grace Foley, Helen's twin sister, who died in infancy.

The family said donations can be made in Foley's memory to the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada Adoption Services.