SISTER MARY ROBERT, SUZANNE "SUE" MARIE LAXALT One of Nevada's most famous sisters, who devoted her entire life to the Catholic Church, her family, and the sick and elderly all over the Silver State, passed away Oct. 30, 2019. Her eyes would sparkle when talking about her family or Nevada. She was a living history of Nevada and a great story-teller. Sue was born, as she was fond of telling people, in the lambing season of 1925 in Merced, CA to Therèse and Dominique Laxalt, both of whom were born and raised in the Basque provinces of France. She entered the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1944. Sue was highly educated, having earned a Bachelor's Degree at Holy Family College and a Master's degree at Loyola University in Montreal, Canada. Known from the start as a tour de force, she was a pioneer in the field of religious education. In the 1960s, she created the first ever citywide Las Vegas youth religious education program. She also created a religious education program for the physically and mentally challenged children of Las Vegas. In the 1970s, she helped create and run the Las Vegas Diocesan Office of Religious Education. During this time, she worked for decades alongside one of Nevada's most well-known priests, Fr. Caesar Caviglia. Together, they helped transform St. Peters in Henderson to a thriving community center. She often recalled those wonderful days when she rode horseback from the Las Vegas Strip down to Henderson on dirt roads. She was described by Father John McShane as "a bright-light with a dynamic spirit and a gentle smile that was contagious. She had an eye of compassion and a hand that stretched out to serve God's little people." Sue became the Dir. of Senior Companions at Catholic Charities in Las Vegas and worked alongside her lifelong friend Tom Miller, who then ran Catholic Charities in Las Vegas. He says she moved Heaven and earth to get things done for the underprivileged in Las Vegas in those days. Amongst the many little things she did to touch the underprivileged there, one of the more high profile ones was to organize the first Clark County Basque Festival in 1981. In true old Nevada fashion, it was a bipartisan affair lead by Bill Morris and former Gov. Mike O'Callahan. They honored her brother Sen. Paul Laxalt at the inaugural. These were tremendous fundraisers that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Catholic Charities and continued for many years. Because she always did everything full steam, she went so far as to bring in sheepherders and cooks from Ely, and Basque dancers from Reno. In addition to her religious vocation she also had a passion for helping her family in the realm of politics. She practiced that devotion fiercely and most notably in her efforts on each of her brother, Former Gov. Paul Laxalt's successful campaigns for Governor and the US Senate. Known equally for her infectious laugh and humor as for her feared deep and disapproving stares, Sister Sue's travels throughout the State of Nevada on behalf of her brother Paul's campaigns made her iconic legend in our state's history. Sister Sue was well-read and loved the political process. This made her a valuable resource to her brother Paul throughout his political career and led him to call her his "secret weapon" because it was impossible for people to say no to her. An outspoken supporter of her brother, she was a near permanent fixture at his campaign headquarters helping in any way she could doing mailers, working the phones or designing car tops. She inadvertently became a campaign issue in Gov. Laxalt's run for the US Senate against former Sen. Harry Reid when Reid criticized the Laxalt family for their wealth. Sister Sue responded that she had taken a vow of poverty and this quickly put an end to this political attack. Many decades later she tried to deploy the same ferocious devotion to her grand-nephew Adam Laxalt when he ran for Atty Gen. in 2014. She did this unassisted with her walker at age 89 after protesting that canvassing the Senior community where she lived was simply not enough. Her grandnephew remembers fondly having to sternly tell her that she couldn't keep handing out fliers for his campaign in church parking lots in Las Vegas! Sister Sue spent her final few years in Northern Nevada. True to her entire life, even in her nineties, she touched everyone in the Senior care facility where she resided. Her final vocation was to help other elderly and indigent people there, even as she needed help herself. She was fondly remembered by her long-time meal mate Bill as someone who visited them one by one, always offering a tender and patient ear and tried to lift each of them up. In the final week of her life, some family brought a priest in for a private anointing of the sick. When the family exited the room, a number of her community members were outside weeping. One said, "she always called me her angel, I loved her dearly." There are few people who can live nearly a century and rightfully be proclaimed by all who knew them a living Saint. It would be hard to find a Nevadan who more directly touched more people in this state over the past 94 years. If she didn't have a fast pass to Heaven, then we are all in trouble. A Catholic Funeral Mass will be at 9 a.m. Thu., Nov. 7 at the St.Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno. Memorial contributions may be made to Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada, P. O. Box 5099, Reno, NV 89513.
Published in Las Vegas Review-Journal on Nov. 6, 2019.