Wednesday, June 26, 2002 | 9:50 a.m.
For all that Tom Wiesner contributed to the university system, athletics and the community, Republicans nationwide knew him as the Big Dog.
When Republican activist Joe Brown was forced to attend a Republican National Committee meeting this year in the ailing Wiesner's stead, he found a room full of support and concern.
"He was such a memorable guy," said Brown, a close friend of Wiesner's for 30 years. "Everybody was asking how he was doing."
Wiesner, who was in the hospital during the meeting, had forged friendships with national leaders over the years. He talked Wisconsin Badger football with former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and was close friends with RNC President Marc Racicot and with Jack Kemp, the former Congressman and pro football player who has run for president.
"The Big Dog was known nationwide," Brown said. "All of the major Republican senators and governors knew him."
In two decades as the state's national GOP committeeman, Wiesner developed contacts around the country, but it was his financial contributions and moral support of the party in Nevada that won him the most esteem.
His Big Dog restaurants played host to fund-raisers with national GOP stars like former presidential candidate and Sen. Bob Dole.
"He did legions for local Republicans running for office," said former governor and Sen. Paul Laxalt, who knew Wiesner for more than 30 years. "With national candidates running for president, one of the first steps would be to go see Big Dog."
Laxalt said former president Ronald Reagan was a good friend of Wiesner's, and that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., knew to visit Wiesner when he was running for president in 2000.
Republican consultant Sig Rogich said Wiesner didn't let his national prominence go to his head.
"What you see is what you get," Rogich said. "No pretentiousness."
His love for party led to numerous assistance, financial and otherwise, to Republican candidates for everything from Regent to the Legislature.
"There are dozens of people at every level who received support from him," Brown said. "If they were a good person and a Republican, he would support them."
Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, got Wiesner's support for both of his two Assembly races.
"I first worked with him when I was elected to be the treasurer of the party and he has been an unstoppable advocate for Republican candidates since," Beers said.
Wiesner served as national committee since 1986, making him the longest serving in Nevada and one of the longest serving GOP committeemen nationwide, Republican activist Chuck Muth said.
"Everybody at the RNC knows him," Muth said.
At January's meeting in Austin, Texas, Muth said, many of the party's leaders mentioned Wiesner and offered prayers.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said Wiesner supported so many causes, that the political part of him will be only a part of his lasting memories.
"Tom helped in many ways, raising money for scholarships, funding buildings for the campus back then and starting the football program," Guinn said. "Tom has been a part of it all and I have a special appreciation for him."
Even Democrats remembered Wiesner as a straight-talking public servant.
"Even though we have starkly different allegiances to political parties, he was always someone I could work with," said Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson.