There is an ecosystem of individuals working hard every day to protect Las Vegas history. These individuals operate in relative anonymity, concerned more with the result of their efforts than receiving any credit for a job well done. Dorothy Wright was one of those people.
When I think of Dorothy, my first thought isn’t her passion for Las Vegas history, her ferocious commitment to historical veracity or her diligent dedication to preservation. It’s not her contribution to the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission, or her hard work with Clark County’s Cultural Division. Nor is it her tireless research and documentation of the history of the region through articles and publishing (Nevada Yesterdays, Spectacular: A History of Las Vegas Neon). When I think of Dorothy, I think of giggles and kindness and mirth.
I had the privilege of working with Dorothy at the Neon Museum for seven years, a number that pales in comparison to the time she spent laboring alongside so many of Las Vegas’ unsung heroes of history. As chairwoman of the facilities committee, Dorothy led the charge in moving the mountain that was the La Concha Motel—from its reassembly and rehabilitation to its adaptive reuse into a museum visitor center. Often the only two women at the table, we shared countless meetings with the designers, architects and contractors that made it all possible. She was one of the most tenacious people I have ever met, demanding the same from those around her, grounding each meeting with a twinkle in her eye.
Post-meeting, we were quite the pair as we strolled the construction site in our hard hats, me eight months pregnant and Dorothy in one of her stylish necklaces, girlish and giddy amid the droning of drills. The entire process of transforming the La Concha was an exercise in blind faith, filled with laughter and excitement. We couldn’t believe it was all really happening. And it couldn’t have happened without Dorothy.
When I think of Dorothy, I think of catching her eye during meetings, trying not to laugh. I think of how I invariably got a call every time she joined a tour of the Neon Museum, telling me how wonderful her guide was before listing off historical inaccuracies. I think of how much she absolutely adored her family. And I think of how her stubborn dedication to whatever she cared about was always trumped by her kindness. Dorothy Wright mentored so many people, who perhaps more than anything love her for teaching by example how to be tough yet tender.
Las Vegas lost Dorothy Wright on January 19, and I’m not sure it realizes what it lost. Perhaps the most fitting celebration of her life is to embrace the history of the amazing place she helped to memorialize. Visit the Neon Museum, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, the Nevada State Museum, the Mob Museum, the Winchester Cultural Center, the Westside School, the Clark County Museum and UNLV Special Collections among so many others, and witness the work of countless people Dorothy Wright touched and thank them for keeping the flame.