Joyce Mack has loved Las Vegas ever since she moved with her husband, Jerome, and two infant daughters from California to what was then a remote outpost town. That was 65 years ago. Today she is the matriarch of one of the most respected families in Nevada. Over the years, the city that her family helped define has grown to love her back.
Joyce is an influential community leader and philanthropist, and the Mack family imprint appears on key institutions all over the valley. She has been a loyal donor to UNLV for more than 30 years and has served as trustee on the UNLV Foundation board since 1999.
She sat down with us recently to share part of her story.
What did you make of Las Vegas when you first lived here as a young mother?
It was an adventure. I loved it from the start. I remember driving to the edge of town with Jerry, and he gestured at the vacant desert landscape and declared, “One day this will be filled with houses, streets, temples, department stores—clear to the mountains.” He told me to remember what he was saying. Of course, he was right. It happened [she snaps her fingers] like that.
The names Thomas and Mack are inextricably linked, on the UNLV campus and around town. What made the relationship between your family and the Thomas family so special?
Jerry met Parry [E. Parry Thomas] when they were young businessmen in Las Vegas — they were both bankers. They became business partners and friends. It was a lifelong bond. They’re from such different backgrounds that I can’t exactly explain it, but they got along beautifully. And the same is true of our families. Their family feels like mine to me, and vice versa.
What determined whether the arena would be called the “Thomas & Mack” or “Mack & Thomas”?
That was a coin toss! Jerry and Parry left it to the children to decide, and the children all wanted their name to be first. So they tossed a coin and…. Well, as you can see, the Thomases called it.
What is your favorite place on campus?
The Boyd Law School. It meant a lot to Jerry. He was proud of the Thomas & Mack Center, but he told me that he wanted people to know he believed not just in athletics but in the entire university. When he passed away [in 1998], I wanted him to be remembered for something that was important to him, and that was the Law School. And, of course, the Thomas family was supportive of that. Now we have the Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic and the Thomas & Mack Moot Court Building, and Jerry would have been very pleased.
I love Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s “Flashlight.” It is an important piece of art. Oldenburg sculptures are on exhibit this summer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and we’ve got a gigantic piece right here. Great art belongs on campus.
You’ve got photographs in your living room of you with each of the Democratic presidents of the United States since Jimmy Carter. What experience stands out?
I got to sit right next to President Obama at a dinner. He is a wonderful man, but he had recently made some thoughtless remarks about Las Vegas. So I scolded him — I let him know what I was thinking. He promised me he would fix it and set the record straight, and sure enough, he did. His next several speeches all included very positive messages about Las Vegas.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I think most people in this community know what I believe in and what is important to me— my family, the university, my support of our temple and the arts. But when Jerry first mentioned to me that he wanted to move to Las Vegas, back in 1949, I never imagined we would stay. I told him I’d move to Nevada as long as we could move back to California in time for our girls to go to Beverly Hills High School. Obviously, I changed my mind! My three daughters have grown up here — Barbara, Karen, and Marilynn. All of them have become outstanding citizens.
What has been most rewarding to you as a philanthropist?
I can’t think of anything more rewarding than being part of the UNLV story.
Joyce Mack has always loved Las Vegas, and the city she helped create loves her back.