A couple of thoughts contributed to this column.
First, I have recently “semi-retired.” I know it will probably never fully happen because I enjoy this business too much, but there are a lot of places that my wife Becky and I really want to visit in this new career phase.
Second, I can’t get Dr. Lonnie Hammargren out of my mind. I guess the word “eccentric” would best describe him. Hammargren is a retired Las Vegas neurosurgeon who has also been a one-term Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. He has an eclectic/bizarre collection of all kinds of Las Vegas memorabilia at his Las Vegas home. Items include a Nevada barn once owned by Bing Crosby, a 16-foot-long animatronic tiger from the Mirage and an Egyptian burial chamber, as well as several classic Las Vegas neon signs. He allows the public to tour his “collection” for a couple days each year.
Anyways, Dr. Hammargren held an “Awake Wake” for himself some years ago, in which he had his mock funeral service, which included a New Orleans-style jazz funeral march to his house by his friends and relatives. He was quoted as saying something like. “It’s a better idea to celebrate your life while you are still alive.”
Even though throwing your own funeral party while still alive strikes me as being a little strange, I do like the notion of one writing his own obituary, as my dear, late father-in-law did recently. So here is how I would like to be remembered (and I reserve the right to revise it all):
DENNIS J., CONRAD, March 4, 1952 – D: January 1, 2063
(hey, it’s my obituary and I can die at age 110 after a rip-roaring New Year’s Eve Party if I want!)
Dennis Joseph Conrad, originally of Buffalo, N.Y., died quietly in his sleep at his home in Reno, Nev. He leaves behind his wife Becky, two children, Amy Ponce and Casey Conrad, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren (I hope.)
Dennis was a 1970 graduate of Canisius High School, where some disillusioned Jesuits helped turn him into an agnostic. He also was a 1974 graduate of Stanford University and he would never have been admitted, but some mediocre golf skills helped him earn a partial scholarship. While at Stanford, he accomplished nothing of any real significance but managed to get through and have a hell of a good time.
Dennis was a lifelong gambler and had a passion for craps, blackjack and video poker, losing much more money than he should have but justifying it because he had so much fun battling the casinos.
He spent his entire life in the gaming industry, in a variety of roles including keno writer, dealer, supervisor and game instructor. In his executive career, he was a casino marketing director and the director of a gaming institute, as well as a muckety-muck vice president with no defined role and no observed success.
Dennis was best known for founding Raving Consulting Company, a gaming consultancy, and for his conference speaking and his marketing column at Casino Journal, which ran for 50 years, although for the last 30 years it was all re-circulated material that everyone thought was new.
Dennis liked to think that he was a gaming industry hot shot because he created one of the first party pits; started awards programs for casino marketing and tribal generosity excellence; raised money for industry causes on problem gambling and Native American children’s heath; started numerous gaming conferences and seminars; and even received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Casino Marketing (that he didn’t deserve).
But the real truth is, and we can say it now that he has passed, is that Dennis had no real skills (he couldn’t even type on the keyboard, for crissakes!) and was totally dependent in his lifetime on the skills of dozens of others to make himself look successful. God only knows why these “angels of mercy” took pity on him and worked tirelessly on his behalf while he coasted. In many cases, they had to because that was their job.
Dennis would have landed in the scrap heap of humanity, if not for the patience, understanding, love and full support of his 111-year-old wife, Becky, who never received any reward for putting up with him.
In lieu of flowers, Dennis has asked his only two friends still alive to go have a glass of good red wine, and for everyone else to be a little nicer to each other and treat every casino worker with a little more respect.