nv daughters

Letter to Michael Francis Dillon, Jr., from Barbara Vucanovich
Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

To: Michael Francis Dillon, Jr.
Fort Bragg, North Carolina

December 1999
2 Newlands Circle
Reno, Nevada

Dear Mike, Jr.,

Named after your Dad, you joined the group of important men in my life, from my grandfathers, father, uncles, brothers, husbands, sons, grandsons and great-grandsons. When you came along, George John Vucanovich and I had been married about four-and-a-half years. He was working for Bally Distributing, while I owned and operated the Welcome Aboard Travel Agency in Reno. Of all my grandchildren you had the closest relationship with George.

My first husband, James Henry Bugden, played a short and unhappy role in my life. I never dwelled upon this marriage after our divorce. I have no regrets about the marriage because he was the father of your Aunt Patty and your father, Mike. My second husband, Kenneth Dillon, was the father of Ken, Tom, and Suz. George Vucanovich was my last husband and the "father," grandfather and great-grandfather to all the children in the family.

I came to Reno in 1949 for a divorce. I lived in a guest house at 427 Hill Street which had five or six bedrooms and three baths upstairs. It was a boarding house that served three meals a day, and everyone living there was in Reno for a divorce. The owner was a Polish or Czech woman, with a husband twenty years younger than she was. She employed a cook named Martha, who was also the maid. I had a room on the second floor and shared a bath. Behind the house was a lovely, old-fashioned backyard with lots of trees with places to sit and visit.

Ken Dillon rented a separate little one-story cottage in the backyard of the guest house. He had that all to himself. He took breakfast and dinner with us, so that is where we met -- over the dining room table. An attorney, he was also in Reno for a divorce. Born in Topeka, Kansas, he settled in New York City after graduating from law school and joined the firm of Cravath, Swain and Moore.

When I came to Reno, I left Patty and Mike in New York with my parents. I got my divorce, went back to New York, where I planned to live. Later, I decided to come back to Nevada because of Ken. We talked about getting married and were married by "old" Judge Clark Guild in his chambers in Carson City, Nevada on an afternoon in March of 1950.

Ken was 6-feet-2 inches tall; an imposing, big man, broad-shouldered. He was dignified in both his looks and demeanor, always proper and reserved. His hair was curly steel grey in color. Most people didnít know that his hair was curly. His daily grooming ritual included slapping Vitalis on his hair to straighten it. He constantly wore glasses to correct the nearsightedness in his blue/grey eyes. Often he read without his glasses, and it always amused me to see him reading so.

He opened his first law practice in Reno on November 10, 1949 at 247 Ĺ N. Virginia Street over Southworthís Tobacco Store. Ken was a graduate of Yale College, Yale School of Law, and obtained an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He was among the first legal tax experts in Reno.

Ken and I were involved in legal organizations and in political affairs during our marriage. I also was active at St. Maryís Hospital Guild and Community Chest. Our social life revolved around those activities, the childrenís sports and their schools. I was fairly busy raising kids and keeping up with him. I played a traditional, supportive role to help make his law practice and his community projects successful. Your grandfather, Ken, loved to spend time with the kids, especially playing sports. So he could spend more time with the kids, he learned to ski, to fish, and to camp. He had never done those things before we were married.

When your grandfather Ken died in 1964, I was 43 years old. Ken, Tom and Suz were 13, 10 and 3 Ĺ years old respectively. In July Paul Laxalt asked me manage his Washoe campaign for the U.S. Senate. Iím not sure why he asked me. I certainly knew him and had helped on his campaign in 1962 for lieutenant governor. Managing campaigns was not something women did in those days. I needed something to keep me busy. Ken died in March; the election was in November. During the campaign, my emotions were still raw. At times I went in the back room at headquarters and cried, then would go back out to work. It was not easy.

During the campaign, Dick Horton and I were organizing the precincts in Washoe County. I did not know anyone in Sparks. Dick suggested we call George Vucanovich and George Tavernia. George Vucanovich was a Democrat, but a friend of Paulís. We asked the two Georges to put together a precinct plan for Sparks, which they did. George and I spent a lot of time working on the campaign together. When the campaign was over, we talked and sent notes to each other and decided to date a little bit. At that time, George owned a hideous little car, a green Corvair. It stopped in the middle of the street every time I drove it.

On June 19, 1965 we were married in my home at 2 Newlands Circle by District Court Judge Grant Bowen. My children, grandchildren Elisa and Farrell, as well as Georgeís son, Craig, were present. George was a very loving guy, who would tear up at the least provocation. He loved my kids, their kids (our grandchildren), and being part of the family. George took his role of step-dad seriously and loved all the children.

He was crazy about animals, especially Charlie, the little white Maltese puppy, that we gave to each other in November 1998 -- a month before George died. He loved to tell stories about Monique, Suzís miniature black poodle. Monique stayed behind with us when Suz went off to college.

Popper George loved his career as an accountant. He was the controller at the Sparks Nugget. He actually went to work for Dick Graves in the original Nugget across the street from its current location. George and all his friends used to go over to the old place after work for a drink. After we got married I did not think much of that, so he quit doing it. I remember when John Ascuaga took over the Nugget. Before we were married, John expected George to work weekends and nights. He liked the job, but I complained about the hours. He didnít work quite as many hours after we were married, but it was difficult at first.

Popper George enjoyed our life during our years in Congress because of the things we were able to do and all the travel. He never resented the sacrifices we made so I could serve for those 14 years in Congress. He was proud of me and the job I did for Nevada. He was supportive of me and always standing by me. He was especially fond of George and Barbara Bush. He attended all the political events with me, except when Bill Clinton was elected President. Popper George balked at attending White House functions, so I took another family member with me when I went to the White House during those years.

When George died on December 19, 1999 at St. Maryís Hospital in Reno, Nevada, we had been married 33 years. I was 77 years old. During our marriage all but two of our grandchildren were born (your cousins Elisa and Farrell were born before we were married). All of our great-grand children (so far) were born then, too. Papa George delighted in each and every member of our family. But to tell you the truth, I think he loved the babies the best.

Ken Dillon and George Vucanovich provided stability and were a major part of my personal life, wonderful husbands and fathers. They supported me financially and made my life pleasant in other ways. Both approved of my community and political activities. We had nice lives together and contributed much volunteer time to make the Reno community a better place to live.

Ken and Georgeís encouragement made my successes possible. I couldnít have done the things Iíve done without their support. And all of that is pretty amazing when you consider the times they lived in and the way they were raised. These were the days before there was really much notion of equal rights for women. After all, women only got the right to vote the year before I was born. So itís pretty incredible that women have come from getting the vote all the way to serving in Congress for all practical purposes during my lifetime. Itís also a tribute to these two wonderful men in my life, that I was able to grow so much myself.

(Barbara F. Vucanovich)

© 1999 Patty Cafferata