Twin tragedies

That nexus in which the media and Big Gaming interact is conspicuously less populous today. First came the news that Sarah Ralston (1961-2011) had died a fortnight ago, following what is characterized as “a brief illness.” From 1995 until 2000, Ralston served as Circus Circus Enterprises‘ PR director, a role she handled with grace. (Her successor in media “relations” was quite a different story.) Like Circus Circus colleague Glenn Schaeffer, she made human rights — and those of dissident writers in particular — a signature cause. Following Hurricane Katrina, she relocated to New Orleans and spent the last years of her life helping Americorps rebuild the still-devastated area. Her post-casino career should serve as an inspiration to the rest of us.

Someone who could never walk away from the Strip was Jeff Simpson (1960-2011). Born on the Fourth of July, Simpson made his name as part of the one-two punch that used to be the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s “Gaming Wire” (Dave Berns provided the other fist). A larger-than-life figure, Simpson was a news junkie and walking encyclopedia of gaming — he set me right more than once on the Vegas Gang podcastsas well as an animal lover and regular Las Vegas Philharmonic attendee. He was also a generous colleague, who actually tried to recruit me for the R-J in 2001 (mainly on the strength of my Montgomery Burns imitation, I think). Many reporters I’ve known would be far less willing to share the limelight.

As befit his visibility and stature — and f0rthrightness — Simpson experienced some epic clashes with Sheldon Adelson and Columbia Sussex CEO William J. Yung III, among others. When the dust cleared, Simpson always emerged victorious for the simple reason that the truth was on his side. He was fiercely loyal to his colleagues, speaking up repeatedly for the Las Vegas Sun‘s Rick Velotta when S&G slammed — or slimed, in Simpson’s view — certain of Velotta’s recent columns.

Unfortunately, Simpson’s loyalty was not reciprocated by his employers. He was driven out of the R-J by then-Business Editor Michael Hiesiger, an empty suit whose proudest accomplishment, I am reliably informed, was showing Simpson the door. Hiesiger was subsequently — and deservedly — given the chop by new Publisher Bob Brown. His petty provocations included stripping Simpson of his Sunday column and reassigning it to an unqualified crony (himself since deceased). Judging by Jessica Fryman‘s excellent obituary in Saturday’s R-J, the current administration treats Simpson far better in death than the talent-averse Sherman Frederick one did in life.

The R-J‘s loss became Greenspun Media Group‘s gain, as Simpson went on to serve as business editor of the Sun and In Business Las Vegas (now Vegas Inc.). However, Greenspun mistakenly deemed Simpson expendable, tossing him aside in one of its many massive salary dumps. The inexperience that mars much of the Sun‘s current gaming coverage would never have passed muster under Simpson’s watch. Pretty much anyone covering Big Gaming today — present company included — is standing on Simpson’s shoulders. The Vegas Gang audio archives ensure that his voice will continue to be heard (and read) well into the 21st century. Alas, the next time Steve Wynn makes news, we will only be able to surmise, “What would Simpson have to say about this?”

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