Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 | 2 a.m.
During a career that included stints as a high school teacher, emergency medical technician, owner of an ambulance company and eventually a role as one of Las Vegas’ leading philanthropist and community leaders, Robert “Bob” Forbuss was motivated by a singular goal: making his beloved hometown a better place to live.
“He loved Las Vegas,” said Dr. Jerry Cade, a close friend of Forbuss’. “He wanted to make it different. He wanted Las Vegas to be this cool, wonderful, progressive city.”
Forbuss, whose community involvement included time on the Clark County School Board and leadership roles at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Public Education Foundation, died Sunday after a battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 64.
A Las Vegas native, Forbuss took his first job after graduating from California’s Long Beach State University teaching at Bishop Gorman High School.
Summers spent as an EMT led Forbuss away from teaching and into leadership roles at Mercy Medical Services, which he later came to own and then expand throughout the southwest.
But education always held a special role in his heart, said Cade, who is the director of HIV services at University Medical Center.
“He was passionate about education,” Cade said. “He believed, like most of us, that education is (the key) to our future.”
Forbuss’ passion also extended to fighting for equal rights for Las Vegas’ gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, of which he was a member, and he played a critical role in the effort to repeal Nevada’s sodomy law in the 1990s.
A private person who tended to work behind the scenes and avoid the spotlight in both his business and personal life, it took years before Forbuss went public with his sexuality, said Cade.
“I bugged him about being open in public. He said he would the day after he was finished with the School Board,” Cade said. “He kept his word. The day after he got off we went to the bar.”
A steady presence in the community for decades, Forbuss’ name will carry on at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada’s new building, which is named in his honor, and at Robert L. Forbuss Elementary School in the southwest valley.
“He lived at the school. He loved being there,” Cade said. “He read to the kids; he went to countless assemblies.”
Forbuss was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that ultimately ends in death, in 2010.
But Forbuss managed to stay positive and continue working to better the community, even in the face of a bleak diagnosis, said Sig Rogich, a close friend of Forbuss who served with him on the Public Education Foundation’s board of directors.
“He handled (the illness) with an amazing amount of dignity and grace,” Rogich said. “Even when I knew he was in pain, he never really complained about it. He was still laughing and talking.”
Rogich said Forbuss gave both his money and, more importantly, his time to making Las Vegas a better place.
“He was an extraordinary part of our community,” Rogich said. “He had a deep compassion for seeing that kids got a good education … What he did in the gay and lesbian community was to bring compassion to the issue early on.”