Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Editorial: Noted historian passes away

In 1996 the A&E Television Network produced a documentary called "The Real Las Vegas." One of the people it sought out to interview was UNLV history professor Hal Rothman.

Since arriving here in 1992, Rothman's commentaries blending Las Vegas' Old West history with its rush to be at the cutting edge of contemporary urban life had made him an essential scholar for reporters, authors, filmmakers - anyone who was serious about presenting accurate insights into the nation's fastest growing city.

"It is not hard to win money in a casino, but it is very, very hard to keep it," Rothman told the A&E film crew, a succinct statement about why Las Vegas had the money to grow at such a furious pace.

For 15 years Rothman provided this kind of lively, engrossing commentary to local, national and international media. Rothman's fame grew because he could write and speak engrossingly to a broad segment of the public.

He could work the 1950s/1960s TV show "Bonanza," filmed in Northern Nevada, into a commentary about the evolution of America. Such was Rothman's gift. From architecture enthusiasts to students to policy wonks to habitues of nightclubs, he could always find a way to hold their attention.

Nothing stopped Rothman from sharing his love of history and contemporary life. In addition to being a professor, he wrote or edited 17 books and a was a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. When he was diagnosed in December 2005 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, he kept on with his work even after his body had lost almost all of its ability to move.

Rothman's death Sunday tragically and prematurely silenced this renowned thinker whom we were honored to feature on our Sunday commentary pages for more than a year beginning in October 2005. His column instantly became a reader favorite. The Nevada Press Association recognized his talent as well, presenting him with two first-place writing awards.

Rothman began his career working for the National Park Service. In the summer 2006 edition of UNLV Magazine, he said he was finishing a book on the history of fire management in the Park Service. He also said the Park Service would celebrate its centennial in 2016, adding, "I want to be the one to write the book."

We trust the book will be written, and it would be fitting if it were dedicated to Hal Rothman.