The cafe inside the Searchlight Nugget bustled during breakfast, but on that fine February morning in 2013 owner Verlie Doing was easy to spot.
Surrounded by adoring family members, she was the blue-eyed great-grandmother with the big smile and a baby on her lap. As the breakfast plates were taken away, she took time to chat about selling the Nugget — known far and wide for its hearty meals and dime cup of coffee — after four decades in the community best known as Harry Reid's hometown.
"We came here in 1967," she said. "I turn 89 this month. I love Searchlight and everything about it. It's been really, really good to us, but I have all the grandkids and one great-grandkid. I want to spend time with them. It's time to go, that's all. I'm tired."
It was impossible to blame her. As anyone who has tried it knows, operating a mom-and-pop casino and cafe takes dedication and a strong work ethic. Starting with a careworn roadside grind joint called Sandy's, by 1979 Verlie and Warren had opened the Nugget. With a business pouring drinks and serving food around the clock, there isn't much time for sleep. Verlie and her late husband, Warren, spent several years living in an apartment above the Nugget's casino cage.
When Warren died in 1984, Verlie hung a portrait of her casino cowboy husband in the lobby of the casino and went back to work, saving the business and paying off the property years ahead of the mortgage deadline.
Doing, who sold the Nugget and other property to JETT Gaming in 2015, died Jan. 19. She was 91.
She'd talked off and on for years about retiring and taking it easy, but sitting back and relaxing really wasn't her style. She liked being around people too much for that.
Although Reid has garnered a lot more headlines in his storied career in the U.S. Senate, I'll bet a month's pay Verlie was liked by more Searchlight residents. She was a fast-draw for charity and put more than a generation of locals to work at the Nugget. During our 2013 conversation, Verlie looked around the crowded cafe and said with pride, "All the people that are working right now, they're local."
From the local library and community center to the volunteer fire department, Verlie was a soft touch and a community booster.
She also was largely responsible for expanding the sewer system in the Southern Nevada outpost. So you might say she brought relief to all her neighbors.
But she said she was serious about finally retiring. She planned to move to a family home in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., a lush recreation area about as far removed from parched Searchlight as a country girl was ever likely to get. She admitted she'd be leaving a piece of her heart out there on the Nevada desert.
And she never stopped promoting the little town that refused to fail.
Newcomers, she said, would have to pause to appreciate Searchlight's people. That was the town's strength.
"They'll have to relate to the town, and it's a good town to relate to," Verlie said. "I mean, we're only 13 miles from the best fishing on the (Colorado) River. We have wonderful trails and mountains, and right now we have a gold mine out here (the Coyote) that's about ready to open. It was established at the turn of the (20th) century and it's going to employ 60 people, which for Searchlight will be just a Godsend."
Although she'd never say it herself, Verlie Doing was a true Searchlight Godsend.
— Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0295.