Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Joe W. Brown, Esq. We met at Café Leone in Tivoli Village, where Joe was greeted warmly by a number of patrons when he entered the room. This level of recognition is not surprising. Joe has been a prominent attorney in Las Vegas since 1968, and he also served in the Reagan administration.
Because I knew his bachelor’s degree was from the University of Virginia and his law degree from Washington and Lee, I asked Joe to tell me how he came to Las Vegas. It’s a story that began during his last few days of law school.
Joe and three classmates saw a notice on a bulletin board advertising a law position in Las Vegas. “Las Vegas! Preposterous!” they all agreed with a laugh, and as a joke, they all applied. That was the end of it, they assumed, but three weeks later, Joe got a phone call. A pompous voice offered him a law clerkship in Las Vegas. Joe thought it was a prank at first but soon realized the caller was serious. “But I wasn’t serious,” he said. “I’d never been west of Memphis.” He told the Las Vegas judge who had called him that he was planning to go to Atlanta.
The judge, however, did not give up. When Joe told the judge that his wife was a teacher, he called back with a job offer for her, too. In Florida for spring break, the young couple spent the whole time asking each other, “How crazy would it be to go to Las Vegas?” In the end, they thought, “Why not? It’s only for a year. What have we got to lose?”
So Joe and Pam Brown headed west, where Joe became one of the first six law clerks in Clark County. The judge who had hired him loved socializing over good food, good wine, and martinis. He made sure his protégé met everybody in town, from casino owners to legislators. “Here I was a law clerk playing tennis with the governor,” Joe told me. At the end of his year as a clerk, Joe accepted an offer from a law firm, extending the Las Vegas residency that he has enjoyed ever since.
One person Joe met during his year as a law clerk was Bob Maheu, who served as Howard Hughes’ “right-hand man” during the years Hughes lived as a recluse in Las Vegas. The two became friends and began having lunch together every so often. Their friendship endured, even through the tumultuous times that followed Hughes’ death. The lunches continued on a monthly basis and expanded to include two other friends. In the late 90s, the group grew to eight, but the focal point was always Bob and his stories.
After Maheu died in 2008, his sons called Joe and asked if he would deliver the eulogy for his friend. Joe, both surprised and moved by the request, accepted. He still recalls the first line he spoke at Maheu’s funeral. “Bob Maheu should have a king or a president eulogizing him, not me.”
Not long after Maheu’s death, Joe kept thinking about how much he missed him and the lunches they had enjoyed over the years. In Maheu’s memory, he began a new tradition, a gathering for Las Vegans featuring a timely speaker. The Bob Maheu luncheon takes place the first Wednesday of every month at the Las Vegas Country Club. About eighty people gather to hear speakers including Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Honorary Consul of Sweden to Nevada Lena Warther, activist Amy Ayoub, author and historian Geoff Schumacher, and Col. Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One on September 11, 2001. (If you would like more information about attending a Bob Maheu luncheon, please write to me at email@example.com.)
Years before Joe Brown made his life-changing decision to move to Las Vegas, his parents sent him a postcard while they were on a road trip through Nevada. On the card was a picture of Joe W. Brown’s Horseshoe Club on Fremont Street. Not only did this early Las Vegas businessman have the same name as their son, he even had the same middle initial. As Las Vegas locals know, a street that runs alongside the Las Vegas Country Club bears the name of this earlier Joe W. Brown. The thing is, it also bears the name of the new Joe Brown, making him possibly unique in the world. Plenty of people have streets named AFTER them. Is there another person who can claim a street named BEFORE him? What I do know for sure is which Joe W. Brown I’ll be thinking about when I drive up that street to get to the next Bob Maheu luncheon.