Bruce Woodbury - An Unlikely Candidate
by Rod Woodbury
When I told my dad that BC Magazine asked me to write a cover story featuring his history, current happenings and future plans, he just rolled his eyes as if to say, “not again.” But characteristically, he smiled and yielded to my questions, even pretending to enjoy it.
Most know him as Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, the universally respected and longest-tenured commissioner in the history of the County. But few know the man behind the scenes or the unlikely story of how he became what he is today.
A native Las Vegan, he had a relatively normal childhood, playing sports, collecting baseball cards, worshiping the New York Yankees, and playing with neighborhood friends. As a teenager, he was a 4-year letterman and all-conference guard for LVHS’s varsity basketball team and, in his own words, “was pretty popular, I guess,” but painfully shy.
My mom tells how it took him weeks to get up the courage to ask her to Junior Prom. She reminisces, “I never would have imagined in a thousand years that we would end up in the public eye for most of our married life. I foresaw the quietest existence possible, but his interest in politics overcame his basic nature. Who can count the number of doors he has knocked on, public speeches he has given, constituents he has met with, important people he has negotiated with, meetings he has attended, and boards he has sat on? This would have been impossible for anyone who knew him in his early years to predict. “
When he was only 16, his father died of cancer, and his mother followed two years later. So, he married his sweetheart, started a family of seven, and ultimately graduating with honors from the University of Utah and Stanford Law School, where he took an early morning paper route and worked in a liquor bottling plant, while my mom made draperies from home.
After graduation, he returned to Las Vegas and began practicing law, initially handling everything from divorces to a first-degree murder case. My dad recounts: “I was still very shy and hated public speaking, but I was always driven to succeed, so I prepared extensively . . . . I would go over my notes and material repeatedly so that I could read it without appearing to . . . . I developed confidence to do what I had always hated to do . . . . However, that basic shyness, which I seemed to be born with, never completely went away . . . even after years as a politician-lawyer.”
In 1981, just a few years after moving to Boulder City, the governor appointed him to replace long-time County Commissioner Bob Broadbent. However, he almost didn’t run again in 1982 because he was so overwhelmed. Nevertheless, he took some good counsel to heart and “learned that I didn’t have to be everywhere, do everything, read every word of every paper crossing my deskin short to prioritize and delegate . . . .” So run he did, even though the political pundits considered him a serious underdog. And the rest, as they say, is history. He won convincingly in seven successive elections from 1982 - 2004 and never looked back.
His many accomplishments as a Commissioner are too numerous to mention, but he takes pride in having been the leader in transportation, flood control and air quality improvement programs for Southern Nevada, and particularly in his mission to protect the interests of small towns like Searchlight, Mesquite, Laughlin, Overton, and Boulder City.
Over the years, he has been described as “the voice of reason,” the “shining light,” and the “driving force” on the County Commission, but perhaps my mom captures it best: “He is a deep thinker and has the ability to look at a given problem from every possible angle. He listens to what everyone concerned has to say, not commenting much until he’s had time to take everything into consideration, and then, boom, he’s got the solution, and everybody listens.” Other family members describe him as inherently fair, soft-spoken, kind, tender-hearted, gentle, a magnet that draws everyone to him, especially children, who absolutely adore him.
His quick wit and subtle sense of humor are as legendary as the 50,000-plus Bruce Woodbury t-shirts he’s distributed across the decades. He dead-pans that “I’ve served with 27 different Commissioners over a period of 28 years, and only 7 of them have been convicted of major crimes . . . so far.”
These days, he’s enjoying semi-retirement from the public eye, spending more time doing the things he loves mostreading; attending UNLV games; watching classic movies, Yankee games, Masterpiece Theater, and “24” on TV; hanging out with grandkids; and helping clients solve their problems at his Boulder City office. He and my mom are anxiously awaiting the birth of their 17th grandchild. And, he quips, “our ’92 Lexus reaching 300,000 miles any day now.”
He says term limits probably did him a favor, that he has no immediate political plans, and that he’s content to leave his options open for now. When I press him, he just says, “We’ll see.” One thing’s for sure, he enjoys helping others, so he’ll continue to be involved one way or another.
And now you know the rest of the story . . . so far.