Las Vegas Sun

April 22, 2019

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Friends give ‘Big Dog’ a moving sendoff

Tom Wiesner earned the nickname "Big Dog" not so much for being a prominent Las Vegas businessman, sports enthusiast and Republican party leader, but more for his love, loyalty and dedication to his community and family.

Nowhere was his endearing unselfishness more evident than on his deathbed, former Republican U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt told more than 1,500 mourners Tuesday at a memorial service at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Cox Pavilion.

After an eight-month battle with leukemia, in which everything from chemotherapy to a stem cell transplant to experimental drugs failed, Wiesner's family did not know what to do next. Wiesner, sensing their great suffering, called his wife, Lynn, and the others to his bedside.

"He said, 'Listen, I love all of you, but it's time to put the Big Dog down,' " Laxalt said, fighting back tears. "It's time to put the Big Dog down."

Wiesner, who served as a Clark County Commissioner from 1970 to 1978 and university regent from 1996 to February of this year, died on June 25 at a Seattle hospital at age 63.

"What attracted me to Tom was that he was so straight-up, so straightforward," said Laxalt, the last of a dozen speakers at Tuesday's services. "He was never afraid to make a tough call."

To the upbeat tempo of the fight song of the University of Wisconsin, where football star Wiesner led the 1959-60 Badgers to the Rose Bowl, mourners exited to the lobby to drink glasses of beer from Wiesner's Holy Cow Brewery and munch on bratwursts from the Big Dogs Hospitality Group restaurant/casinos that Wiesner founded in 1990.

It was perhaps the most fitting tribute to the native of Wisconsin and the Las Vegas resident of 39 years. He is credited with bringing together UNLV and Wisconsin school officials to establish a series of football games beginning in the 1980s.

"Tom had boundless energy," said longtime friend and memorial service master of ceremonies Joe Brown. "If you went hunting with him, he'd go until the dogs dropped ... then visit every bar in town."

Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn credited his longtime friend for playing a major role in helping kids in the community through sponsorship of Pop Warner football, Little League and many other programs.

"He helped so many people in this community because he cared," Guinn said.

UNLV football coach John Robinson said: "Every man in this room wants to be like him. He had courage, and he was honest."

Robinson said starting with the upcoming season, the Tom Wiesner Award will be given to the senior who most exemplifies leadership and courage. The award is a UNLV football jersey with Wiesner's name on it that the honored player will wear during the game.

Former NFL quarterback and U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who was captain of the San Diego Chargers when Wiesner tried out for the squad after being cut by the Los Angeles Rams, said Wiesner lived a life that mirrored a quote from President Teddy Roosevelt's 1910 citizenship speech "Man in the Arena:"

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out ... where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena ... who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst ... fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Among the mourners was David Humm, an All-America Nebraska quarterback and member of two Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders teams, who, like Wiesner, is in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame and who also has waged a valiant battle against a deadly disease, multiple sclerosis.

"I can't remember a time when I didn't know Tom Wiesner," said Humm, a Bishop Gorman High School graduate and Raider radio show host. "He lived life with such passion. He lived life with such enthusiasm.

"This community does not yet know what it lost when it lost Tom Wiesner. I don't know who will fill his shoes."

The family asks that donations be made in Wiesner's memory to the University of Wisconsin Foundation for the Wisconsin football program, the UNLV Foundation for the UNLV football program or to the New Horizons Academy for children with learning disabilities in Las Vegas.