Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2021

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Where I Stand:

Rob Lang, impact player of the decade


Leila Navidi

Dr. Robert Lang, executive director of the Lincy Institute and UNLV director of Brookings Institute Mountain West speaks during Preview Las Vegas 2012 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012.

You can make an impact without making a name for yourself.

In sports jargon there are a few people known as impact players — those athletes who by their very presence change the trajectory of their teams from also rans to always winners. Their names and everything about them become public property as each fan embraces the victories and the player as his own.

Real life is like that too. Las Vegas, for example, has had more than its fair share of impact players since its modern birth (Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel) nearly 75 years ago. In each case, though, the names have become well known and remain indelible alongside and as part of the significant accomplishments achieved in making this city the envy of the modern world.

This past week, Rob Lang passed away far too early, after a lengthy battle with an illness that kept sapping his strength but never his determination and his will — right to the end.

Beyond his immediate world and those with whom he dealt over the past decade in Nevada, he was not well known. But his successes on behalf of this city and our state are already the stuff of legends.

You see, Rob Lang was an impact player — probably the single most important person most people had never heard of to move to, live in and serve the people of Nevada since he got here in 2010.

Rob was my friend. And I was privileged to be his.

By now, every reader in Las Vegas and Nevada knows who Rob was and some of what he did to make their lives better and more fruitful and their future a good bit brighter.

He had champions throughout the state, be they governors who benefited from his wisdom and experience, businesspeople who came to understand the data he presented and how to use it to make things work, academics who followed his lead and learned the lessons he taught that combined learning with doing, and, of course, benefactors in the giving community whose motives matched Rob’s when it came to community health and well-being.

I suspect that over time people will better and more fully understand the work Rob did on their behalf and the policy changes he persuaded others to enact that will force Nevada out of the 20th century and well on its way to the 21st. Yes, that’s what I meant to say.

In the classic movie “Being There,” Chauncey Gardiner explained how there would be growth in the spring as long as the seeds were planted and the roots were not severed.

Well, Rob taught Nevadans how to plant the seeds of growth knowing that there would be a season when life would bloom and the economy — both Rob and Chauncey were big on the economy — would come roaring back to life.

Rob’s wisdom and his New Jersey “can and must do” attitude came at a time when none of us were sure that we would survive the winter of the Great Recession.

Today, many of those seeds Rob forced Nevada to plant are maturing.

There is a medical school in Southern Nevada that not only will be a significant boon to our economy but holds the promise of much better health outcomes for our residents. All of them.

There is a growing economic parity with Northern Nevada in the academic world that will serve the needs of generations of Las Vegans in a way never imagined because previously unobtainable resources have been unleashed, thanks to Rob’s persistence.

Economic diversity for far too long was just an aspiration. Thanks to the policy changes Rob persuaded leaders to adopt, Southern Nevadans especially will no longer be wholly dependent on the success of our No. 1 industry. He did in just 10 years what others just talked about doing over many decades.

And, perhaps I shouldn’t say it but I will: Rob’s understanding of the critical importance of mining to a part of the state frequently ignored by the population centers helped pave the way for what the 2021 Legislature and the mining industry just accomplished. Mining is now paying a fairer share while the rest of the state has recognized its contribution to Nevada’s economic health.

He understood how all the parts worked, and he could play the political chess game better than most. Rather than allow politics and an ever-increasing demand for dollars destroy a vital industry, Rob used data and dogged determination to set the table (for people who didn’t even know it) for a win-win that will serve Nevadans for a long time to come.

Yes, Rob Lang was Nevada’s impact player of this last decade. People need to know that because the people of this state need to understand how and why we were able to get to this point when the outcome could have been so much worse.

It all happened because for the past 10 years Rob Lang has been Nevada’s MVP.

Rest well, my friend. This state owes you big time.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.