Grant Sawyer was the 21st governor of Nevada and one of several governors to come from Elko County. He made his mark on Nevada history as an activist for civil rights and against corruption in the gaming industry

“I was born in Twin Falls Idaho on December 14, 1918, the youngest of three boys,” Frank Grant Sawyer recounted in his oral history “Hang Tough!” He attended Linfield College in McMinneville, Oregon, then graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1941.

Sawyer started law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He enlisted after the start of World War II in the Army and served in the Pacific theater. After the war, he returned to Washington to finish his studies. In 1946, Sawyer earned his law degree and married Bette Hoge, on August 1.

In Washington, Sawyer became friends with John F. Kennedy, then a congressman, and was mentored by U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran of Nevada. In 1948, he and Bette moved to Elko to practice law, and their daughter, Gail, was born in 1949. Two years later, Sawyer was elected district attorney.

The Sawyers enjoyed living in Elko. Grant and Bette took part in local clubs and organizations, including the American Red Cross and the Silver Stage Players. “That is the only place we’ve been long enough to establish close relationships,” Sawyer recalled. They formed friendships with many Elkoans, including the editors of both the Elko Independent and Elko Daily Free Press, Snowy Monroe and Chris Sheerin respectively.

In 1958, Sawyer ran for governor as a Democrat against Republican Charles Russell. With Nevada’s conservative history, Sawyer was quoted as saying that running was “a pure lark, with no conceivable chance of winning.” Sawyer defeated Russell by 16,000 votes.

In office, he created the Nevada State Equals Rights Commission and formed the Gaming Control Act of 1959 in an effort to remove criminal influence in the gaming industry. He served two terms before being defeated for re-election in 1966 by Paul Laxalt.

The Sawyers moved to Las Vegas, where Grant opened a law firm and remained active in the Democratic Party, notably speaking out against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. He died on Feb. 19, 1996, at the age of 77. Upon his passing, Sawyer was cited as a civil rights champion and called “a giant of Nevada history” by then Governor Bob Miller.

Photo and archive access courtesy of Northeastern Nevada Museum.

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