Las Vegas Sun

November 12, 2018

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Longtime Las Vegas mayor Oran Gragson dies at 91

Oran K. Gragson, Las Vegas mayor from 1959 to 1975 who oversaw the growth of transportation, the development of housing for minorities and the construction of municipal parks, died today at a local hospice. He was 91.

He was the city's longest serving mayor and was largely responsible for bringing to the attention of the Nevada Legislature the need for regional street planning and the funding for it.

That led to the creation of the Clark County Regional Streets and Highway Commission, which today is called the Regional Transportation Commission. Gragson also was a key figure in forming the Regional Planning Coalition. Many of today's parks and recreational facilities were built under his reign.

"It is difficult to go anywhere today in Las Vegas without feeling Mayor Gragson's influence," said longtime Las Vegas federal Judge Lloyd George, a former neighbor of the Gragsons and a longtime friend.

"He provided this city with the most marvelous leadership during a critical time. And he did all of the right things for all of the right reasons, never once seeking the credit for it. He was very insightful and very honest."

A small stretch of U.S. 95 that runs past Las Vegas City Hall is named the Oran K. Gragson Highway in his honor, as is an elementary school. The current city hall at 400 E. Stewart Ave., was built under his leadership.

Palm Mortuary-Jones is handling arrangements, which are pending.

As mayor, Gragson initiated the Urban Renewal Committee and Human Rights Commission. In 1983 he was honored by the Southern Nevada Urban League with the Founders Award for his efforts to aid minorities in securing housing and employment.

Faced with racial strife during the civil rights movement, Gragson hired a black liaison officer and held town meetings in predominantly black West Las Vegas to address concerns of constituents and attempt to foster racial harmony between black and white neighborhoods.

Also in the late 1960s Gragson convinced then-President Richard Nixon to support legislation that transferred control of a $1.6 million Manpower anti-poverty program to Las Vegas.

In 1968 Gragson proposed to the Legislature a one-cent sales tax that would raise $6 million annually for Clark County.

In 1969 the Fraternal Order of Eagles named Gragson "Outstanding Mayor the Year." He later was recognized by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as a Distinguished Nevadan.

Born Feb. 14, 1911, in Tucumcari, N.M., Gragson attended high school in Texas, but his family left the state when the great Dust Bowl hit.

He came to Las Vegas for the first time in 1932 to work on the Boulder Dam but returned to Mansfield, Ark., where he married farm girl Bonnie Henley at Mansfield on Dec. 21, 1934.

The couple returned to Southern Nevada on Christmas Day, where he worked on a crew building a road from Searchlight to the dam. He later helped build roads in Caliente, Beatty and Goldfield. Bonnie was the cook for those work crews.

The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1937, where he managed the Boulder Inn and they later ran a second-hand store on Fremont Street. He opened a furniture store on North Main Street in 1949 and was elected mayor 10 years later.

During his four terms as mayor, Gragson served on the advisory boards of both the National League of Cities and the National Mayors Conference. He also was a longtime member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board.

Gragson opted not to run for a fifth term at Bonnie's request. Instead, he became executive director of the Downtown Progress Association, a post he would hold until his retirement in 1986.

He also served on the Valley Hospital Board of Governors and, in the mid-1980s, was its chairman.

In 1976 Gragson was appointed Nevada State Chairman of the President Gerald Ford election campaign.

Gragson was a member of the First Baptist Church, Elks and Eagles Lodges and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. With wife Bonnie, he co-chaired the American Cancer Society's 1976 Cancer Crusade.

Gragson was a past chairman of the President's Committee to Employ the Handicapped. In 1979 Gov. Bob List named Gragson to the State Public Works Board.

In 1982 the east-west highway was renamed for Gragson following a petition drive.

In his retirement he tended to his garden at his Las Vegas home and kept up on area politics.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years Bonnie Gragson, a son, Ken and a daughter, Shirley. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.