Sparks Mayor Ron Smith has died of pancreatic cancer almost two years after receiving his diagnosis, the city announced Wednesday. He was 71 years old.
A Nevada resident of 46 years, Smith became the 25th mayor of Sparks in 2018 after representing Ward 3 on the Sparks City Council for 12 years and serving as mayor pro tempore, the person who assumes duties if the mayor is unable to do so, from 2012 to 2018.
Throughout Smith's tenure, Northern Nevada's second largest city experienced increased expansion and development accompanied by growing pains of rising rent, homelessness rates and disagreements over how to best address the changes in population and need.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Sparks Mayor Ron Smith. Smith had a long history of service to the Sparks community," Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement following the announcement. "With an eye on growth, economic development and flood control, Smith was focused on helping the community he loved so much."
During his time in office, Smith focused on infrastructure and transportation needs in Sparks after serving many years on the Regional Transportation Commission and the Truckee River Flood Management Authority, most recently as chair of the Truckee River Flood Management Authority board of directors.
He received the Public Official of the Year Award by the Builders Association of Northern Nevada in 2012 and the SIR ("Skill, Integrity and Responsibility") Award from the Association of General Contractors in 2019 for his work in infrastructure.
"We’ll remember Mr. Smith for his important impact on our growing community, such as his support for transportation and infrastructure needs, but we’ll mostly remember him for his friendship, determination and his leadership in working together on some of our area’s most critical issues." said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Smith, a Navy veteran that did two tours in the Vietnam War, spearheaded the creation of the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza that will be at the Sparks Marina and served as director of the project.
“As a veteran himself, Ron was extremely passionate about this project,” said Councilman Kristopher Dahir. “What he cared about most was that the almost 1,000 Nevada veterans that died fighting for our country were honored, and he wanted to make sure the next generation knew of the sacrifices of those who died for our freedoms. He was very driven to see this project completed. We have every intention of making this happen in his honor.”
Smith faced controversy in 2019 with open opposition to and an attempt to shut down an event where drag queens read to children at a Sparks library. Smith told The Reno Gazette Journal that it didn't "make any sense" to him and he was concerned about the drag queens taking off their clothes and not having background checks.
Outside of public office, Smith worked in the grocery industry for 42 years and later worked at High Sierra Industries, which works with people with disabilities.
"Mayor Smith’s commitment to serve the public went above and beyond, including his passion for vulnerable populations, veterans of our community, and many other commitments outside of being Mayor," said Washoe County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Lucey in a statement. "Mayor Smith’s big heart and commitment along with his steadfast dedication to this community will be sorely missed."
Mayor Pro Tempore Ed Lawson will be sworn in Sept. 14 and will complete Smith's term until the next mayoral election in 2022.
“Ron was a good friend and mentor, and a man who deeply loved his City and community. His mark will be left on this community for decades to come,” Lawson said.
Smith leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Karen, four children and nine grandchildren.
Details on the memorial service have yet to be announced. The Smith family is asking that donations be made to the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza Project in lieu of flowers.