In Memoriam: Harry Reid

The former Senate majority leader, graduate of GW Law received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from GW in 2005 and was recognized as a Monumental Alumni.

December 29, 2021

Sen. Harry Reid

Sen. Harry Reid speaks at a GW alumni event on Capitol Hill. (GW Today)

Harry Reid, who served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015 and had a long relationship with George Washington University, died Tuesday at his home in Nevada. He was 82.

Mr. Reid, who earned his J.D. from GW Law in 1964 and Honorary Doctor of Laws in 2005, was also named a GW Monumental Alumnus for his leadership skills that took him from being a city attorney in Henderson, Nevada, to Washington, D.C., where he served as a leader in the Senate through the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama administrations. In between those two posts, Mr. Reid was elected as a member of the Nevada State Assembly, the state’s lieutenant governor and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

 “Senator Reid recognized the great power of using education and knowledge to improve the lives of others,” GW President Thomas LeBlanc said. “Throughout his extraordinary career in public service, Senator Reid demonstrated the strong work ethic and political and legal convictions of a leader committed to his constituents and the future of our country. We are honored to consider him among our most distinguished alumni.”

Mr. Reid, a Democrat, was an advocate of land conservation, especially for his home state of Nevada. He received a lifetime achievement award from the League of Conservation Voters. The Conservation Lands Foundation recognized him for “historic contributions to conservation.” He played a key role in gaining Senate passage of Mr. Obama’s most important pieces of legislation: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Dodd-Frank Act and the Affordable Care Act.

The former Senate leader was known as a tough negotiator who was a master of the Senate’s sometimes arcane rules of operation. He liked to describe himself as “more of a dancer than a fighter.”

Mr. Reid was elected to the Senate in 1986. He served as Senate minority leader from 2005 to 2006 and 2015 though 2016. In all, he was the leader of Senate Democrats for 12 years, according to The Washington Post.

In a 2005 interview with GW Law magazine, Mr. Reid said he hadn’t set out to become a leader in national politics. “I’d love to give you some great philosophical reason about why I entered public service, but the fact is that I had no political aspirations,” he said.

The son of a miner, Mr. Reid was raised in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, in a small cabin without indoor plumbing and began his education in a two-room schoolhouse. He moved with his wife, Landra, and a young child to Washington, D.C., in 1961 to attend GW Law. While there, Mr. Reid worked nights as a Capitol police officer to support his family.

“The GW Law community mourns the passing of Senator Reid. He was a hard-working and determined law student, who served six days per week as an officer with the U.S. Capitol Police while studying law full time to earn his J.D.,” said GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew. “He bore the unmistakable hallmark of a GW Law graduate who used the education he received from the oldest law school in Washington, D.C., to help reshape a nation.”

Reid spoke to GW Law graduates in 2005, telling the students they were fortunate to have the benefits of a superior education from one of the world’s finest law schools. He advised the graduates to “each use your education to stand for the rule of law. Play the game hard, but play by the rules. If the game goes against you, work harder, train harder and play again.

“And whatever you do, don’t quit.”