Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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As executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun for 14 years, Bryn Armstrong kept a keen eye on politics, championed civil rights and children's issues, and led the newspaper in its recovery from a devastating November 1963 pressroom fire.

He left journalism after 35 years to bring a newspaperman's sensibilities to a second career - government service - that kept him active through his 80th birthday. His public service included stints as the longtime chairman of the state Parole Board and, in the mid-1990s, executive secretary of the Nevada Dairy Commission. Armstrong died Saturday in Carson City. He was 91.

Born in 1916 in Syracuse, Kan., Armstrong moved with his family to Nevada in 1928. The family settled in Ely, then moved to Virginia City and Tonopah. Eventually, Armstrong came to Las Vegas, graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1936. He attended UNR from 1938 to 1942, when - just short of earning his journalism degree - he joined the Army. After World War II he went to work in the newspaper business - for the Woodland (Calif.) Daily Democrat and the Sacramento Bee before joining the Reno Evening Gazette in 1948.

In 1956 Armstrong was promoted to assistant managing editor of the Gazette and, in 1960, he wrote a series of stories that led to reforms in the state's adoption laws.

On Jan. 2, 1963, he joined the Sun as executive editor , a post he held until 1977.

Armstrong occasionally stepped in to write the daily Where I Stand columns for late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun. He also penned his own Sunday column, Sunlight on Politics.

In a 1968 speech before the Clark County PTA, Armstrong heralded local and national efforts to end race segregation in schools. He told the crowd that integration had to be synonymous with education ; decent , affordable housing ; and good jobs.

Then, after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he wrote in the newspaper: "Fruition of his dream was denied him (but) the dream survives despite the haters and those who cannot or will not understand what injustice does to those who suffer it ... The dream survives mortal man ... It survives wars. It survives tragedies. It survives."

In the mid-1970s Armstrong's interest in politics and government began moving beyond the newsroom, when he served as chairman of the Clark County Juvenile Probation Committee.

When he ran as a Democrat for the Clark County Commission in 1976, Armstrong remarked, "I have been called a 'bleeding heart' by some for the interest I have shown in this ( Juvenile Probation Committee) program. But the joy of seeing even one young person turn away from drugs or theft or even more - violent crime ... far overshadows the criticism of those who simply don't understand the importance of this work."

Armstrong campaigned for the commission on a newspaperman's platform, promising to end the board's secret deals and closed meetings.

He handily won the Democratic primary, but lost to incumbent Republican Bob Broadbent in the general election.

Armstrong served on the Democratic Central Committee in Clark and Washoe counties.

In June 1977 Armstrong resigned from the Sun when he was appointed chairman of the first full-time Parole Board by Democratic Gov. Mike O'Callaghan , who two years later, following the completion of his second term, became executive editor of the Sun.

"I'm going to put the typewriter in mothballs for a while," Armstrong said about leaving the Sun. He had spent 35 of his 61 years as a newspaperman.

Armstrong was reappointed to several four-year terms on the Parole Board by Republican Gov. Robert List and Democratic Govs. Richard Bryan and Bob Miller.

From 1979 to 1993 the rate of parolees under Armstrong's leadership dipped from 60 percent to 34 percent as the board adopted a conservative approach to releasing prison inmates.

From 1993 to 1996, the year he suffered a stroke, Armstrong served as executive secretary of the Nevada Dairy Commission. He retired at age 80.

A civic leader, Armstrong was past director of the YMCA in Reno and Las Vegas, and a member of the Nevada Humanities Committee, the Southern Nevada Human Relations Commission and the International Footprint Association.

A memorial service for Armstrong is planned from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 23 at the the Nevada Press Association building in Carson City.

Armstrong was preceded in death by his wife, Leola Armstrong, former director of Common Cause in Nevada, who died in 2004, and two of their five children.