SPARKS - Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong, hailed as a tireless promoter for the city during his 16-year tenure on the City Council, died Saturday from complications after surgery. He was 59.
Family was at Armstrong's side when he died shortly after 7 a.m. at Northern Nevada Medical Center, where he had been for 21Ú2 weeks since doctors detected a blood clot in a major vein leading to his liver.
The clot was a complication from surgery in December to remove an enlarged spleen that resulted from a bone marrow disorder.
Councilman Geno Martini, who as mayor pro tempore will succeed him at a time to be arranged, praised Armstrong's leadership of the city of 80,000 located just east of Reno. The two became friends in grade school and graduated together from Sparks High School in 1964.
"What made him stand out as a politician was a passion for his job of mayor, his honesty and his connection with the people," Martini said. "He was someone you could call and vent to and (have) listen to your problems. I think he brought the mayorship of Sparks to a new level."
Armstrong was elected mayor in 1999 and was in the middle of his second term when he died. He was elected as councilman in 1989 and re-elected twice.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., also hailed Armstrong's efforts on behalf of Nevada's fifth largest city. Gibbons was another longtime friend who graduated just ahead of Armstrong at Sparks High.
"Hailing from Sparks, Tony was honored to have the opportunity to serve the city he loved so much, and he served as mayor with great distinction," Gibbons said. "Tony was committed to making Sparks a wonderful community ... He will be missed by all."
Gov. Kenny Guinn said Armstrong touched countless people as mayor.
"Tony was the perfect mayor of his hometown, a truly nice guy who cared passionately about the future of Sparks," Guinn said.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., called Armstrong "a fine mayor, a true and dedicated public servant.
"He approached his job with optimism, determination and humor. He will be deeply missed, and his contributions will never be forgotten," Ensign said.
Armstrong, a licensed general contractor, owned a home inspection business in Sparks.
He also was a member of various government boards and commissions, including the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.
In 2003, Armstrong created a stir by posting "God Bless America" signs at city hall.
Armstrong was outraged after the word "God" was removed from similar signs at city hall on the advice of the city attorney, who feared they could be viewed as a city endorsement of religion and invite lawsuits.
Armstrong, a Republican, purchased the signs with his own money and posted them after obtaining approval from all five council members.
In a prepared statement released Saturday, Armstrong's family branded him as "a true champion for the city.
"Our family has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love, prayers and cards ... It goes without saying that the citizens of Sparks loved Tony as much as he loved them," the family said.
Survivors include his wife Debbie, three children and four grandchildren.
Memorial services were pending.