California State University, Fresno alumnus and former two-term Nevada Gov. Kenny C. Guinn died on Thursday, July 22, when he fell from the roof of his house in Las Vegas. He was 73.
In May, Gov. Guinn received an honorary doctorate of humane letters during Fresno State’s Commencement and he was honored in 2001 with the Fresno State Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
“Kenny Guinn never forgot the educational foundation he received at Fresno State,” said university President John D. Welty. “His leadership in education, business and politics is a great example for our current students.”
Welty added, “Gov. Guinn also provides an example of how someone from modest means took advantage of educational opportunities that Fresno State provided to excel in his careers.”
Welty has ordered the university flags be lowered to half-staff to honor Gov. Guinn.
Dr. Peter G. Mehas, a California State University trustee who was two years behind Gov. Guinn at Fresno State, said his longtime friend “was a humble man. He developed his leadership and his values right here in our valley and he never forgot that.”
“He took his responsibilities seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously,” he added
“It meant a great deal to him to be recognized by his alma mater with the honorary doctorate,” added Mehas, who helped Welty confer the honorary degree. “Education was one of his passions.”
“All of are deeply saddened by the passing of such a great leader,” said Mehas.
Gov. Guinn was born in Arkansas and moved as a child to the San Joaquin Valley town of Exeter with his parents. He excelled at sports at Exeter High School and received a scholarship to the University of Southern California. He was the first in his family to attend college.
He transferred to Fresno City College and then to Fresno State, where he was senior back of the year for the 1958 Bulldog football team.
Gov. Guinn earned undergraduate (1959) and graduate (1965) degrees in physical education from Fresno State and a doctorate in education from Utah State University.
Gov. Guinn and his wife Demas began dating in high school and married while he was in college. They have two sons.
After graduating from Fresno State, Gov. Guinn put one of his bedrock beliefs into practice. He once said: “Make no mistake about it: Next to parents and families, our teachers are the most important influence in our children’s lives.”
Gov. Guinn taught high school for four years and then moved to Las Vegas, where he served as Clark County School District Superintendent.
He switched his management focus to the banking industry in 1978 and became president of Southwest Gas Corp. in 1988. He was elected chairman of the board in 1993.
Because he believed that education had opened doors for him, Gov. Guinn accepted the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ invitation to become interim president in 1994 to help chart a new direction for the then-troubled school. He accepted just $1 of his salary, donating the rest to the UNLV scholarship program. He also instituted changes that helped the university regain momentum as an expanded urban college.
He was elected Nevada’s governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. During his tenure, the moderate Republican was voted by Time Magazine one of the Five Best Governors in America.
After leaving elective office, Gov. Guinn was elected to the board of directors for MGM Mirage.
Gov. Guinn was an active member of the National Board of Visitors, a group of well-known alumni who are helping the university’s Campaign for Fresno State. He also appeared in a nationally televised promotional message about his alma mater.
“With two Fresno State degrees, Kenny Guinn made his alma mater very proud through many accomplishments,” said Jacqui Glasener, executive director of the Fresno State Alumni Association. “This Bulldog will be missed.”