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Mike O’Callaghan

Gov. Mike O’Callaghan

  • January 4, 1971 - January 2, 1979
  • Democratic
  • September 10, 1929
  • March 5, 2004
  • Wisconsin
  • University of Idaho
  • Married Carolyn Randall; five children
  • Air Force, Army, Marines


MIKE O’CALLAGHAN was born in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, on September 10, 1929. His parents lost their mortgaged farm during the Depression and took up subsistence farming on marginal land near Sparta, Wisconsin. At 16, O’Callaghan joined the Marine Corps, and he was assigned to guard prisoners on Guam. After serving four four years, O’Callaghan moved to Hanford, Washington, and supported himself as an ironworker and attended Boise Junior College. He kept in shape by boxing. Attracted by the opportunity to study new technology, O’Callaghan joined the Air Force. He was trained as an intelligence officer and stationed in Alaska. When the Korean War broke out, a new policy came out authorizing interservice transfers to the Army for military men who could pass a qualifying test. O’Callaghan jumped at the chance. Once transferred, he signed a waiver releasing the army from its commitment to send him to officer candidate school, and went to Korea as a private. While serving with the army infantry in Korea, he was wounded, and his left leg had to be amputated below the knee. He was awarded the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, and Bronze Star. After his discharge, O’Callaghan finished a master’s degree in 1956 at the University of Idaho, and was hired to teach government, history and economics at Basic High School in Henderson, Nevada. He helped found and run the Henderson Boys Club, teaching factory-town kids to box and was named director of juvenile court services. During this period, O’Callaghan had become active in Democratic politics. Governor Grant Sawyer, reorganizing state government, hired O’Callaghan in 1963 to gather seven related departments into what is now called the Department of Human Resources. In 1964 O’Callaghan took a job in Washington, D.C., organizing Job Corps conservation camps throughout the country. President Lyndon Johnson named him regional director in the Office of Emergency Preparedness, over Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California, Hawaii and the Pacific possessions and trust territories. Although he resigned the job when Richard Nixon took office, he maintained a lifelong interest in emergency services, and later, through the National Council of State Governors, backed President Jimmy Carter’s legislation to unify various federal disaster-relief bureaus into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) Carter offered him the chance to head the agency, but by then he was back in Nevada, and disinclined to return to Washington. In 1970 O’Callaghan successfully ran for governor. During his tenure, he signed an open-housing law in Nevada, fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, appointing women to positions of authority; increased funding for special education programs; and created a state Consumer Affairs Office and the Nevada Housing Division, which provided low-cost loans to help Nevadans buy their own homes. He chaired the Western Governors’ Conference and served on the National Governors’ Association Executive Committee. An amendment to the Nevada Constitution, limiting governors to two terms, took effect after his election, so O’Callaghan was the last who could have lawfully sought a third. He considered the idea but rejected it, accepting a job as an executive at the Las Vegas Sun. In 1981, he bought the Henderson Home News and its sister paper, the Boulder City News. He died in Las Vegas on March 5, 2004 and is buried at the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Boulder City.

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