Mary Gojack, an Iowa native who came to Nevada to deal blackjack and ended up one of a handful of women ever elected to the Nevada Legislature, died of cancer Tuesday at a Reno hospital at the age of 49.
Earlier this year, when she was honored by the American Civil Liberties Union for her battles on behalf of women and minorities, she told the assemblage that she had cancer and faced "a tough fight."
After arriving in Reno, she worked in a casino while attending the University of Nevada where she earned a degree in political science.
She gained attention outside Nevada when she first ran for the state Assembly in 1972 and suggested, facetiously, that Nevada legislators should take a breath alcohol test before each vote.
Voters elected the plain-spoken Democrat to the Assembly and two years later to the Nevada Senate.
In 1980, she took on U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt in a bitter campaign in which she gathered 40% of the vote, considered a substantial margin in a state known for its conservatism. Two years later, she ran for Congress but was beaten by Republican Barbara Vucanovich.
One of the opponents she defeated in the Democratic primary was her former husband, John Gojack, who said his ex-wife "was a good person until she got involved in the feminist movement."
During her legislative career, Mrs. Gojack supported the equal rights amendment, which Nevada rejected, pushed through a bill requiring developers to put aside money for parks in local subdivisions, spoke out against capital punishment and for abortion and was one of the first Nevadans to advocate removing the sales tax on food.
In recent years, she had been in the real estate business.
She is survived by her second husband, Robert Gorrell, and a son and daughter.