In Memoriam – Don P. Chairez

Don P. Chairez, 65, of Pahrump, passed away in Las Vegas on January 21, 2021 from Covid-19. Don was born on September 29, 1955 in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to MSgt. Pedro Chairez and Clotilde (Patiño) Chairez. He was always proud to be a native of the “Show Me State” and was a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. His father’s military service took the family to Colorado, Panama and finally to New Jersey. The Chairez family moved to the Sacramento area after Don’s father retired from the U.S. Army in 1965 to be close to his mother’s family. 

Don’s family were Seventh-day Adventist and in 7th grade Don began attending Sacramento Adventist Academy where he would establish many lifelong friendships, including his best friend, Carl Opsahl, and his favorite teacher, Walt Pontynen. The Adventist religion taught Don to: “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to Stand Alone”. Don graduated from Sacramento Adventist Academy in 1973 as the valedictorian of his class. 

After high school, Don attended college at La Sierra College in Riverside, California with his best friend, Carl. A few weeks after beginning college, Don’s father lost his 4-year battle to cancer and Don was no longer just the “big brother” to Dina, David, and Dennis, but now their “father figure” as well. He gave his monthly Social Security survivors’ benefits to his mom to help his family rather than keep the money for himself. During his college summers, he worked as a camp counselor at Pinecrest Camp (now Sierra Pines Camp) near Lake Tahoe. After graduating La Sierra in 1977, Don attended law school at the University of Southern California and would be a proud Trojan until the last night of his life when a USC blanket that his daughters had bought for him covered him in his hospital bed. 

After graduating from USC Law School in 1980, Don returned to Sacramento and began private practice, primarily focusing on immigration law helping clients who often could not afford the legal fees. In Ayala v. Campney, Don and his partners helped a young Mexican immigrant couple regain custody of their toddler son who had been taken from California to New York as an infant by a baby-sitter. Many years later, that young boy would proudly serve his country as a U.S. Marine. While practicing law in Sacramento, Don was introduced to a young educator, Maria Vasquez, by mutual friends. Don and Maria would marry on February 14, 1984. A few years later, their daughter, Monica, would be born on August 9, 1986.

In 1988, Don began working as a Deputy District Attorney for Washoe County. Reno winters can be bitterly cold, and in 1990 Don accepted a position as a Clark County Deputy District Attorney. In the Clark County DA’s office, Don would form many friendships, especially Tom Carroll. Don and Maria would add to their family on March 2, 1991 when their second daughter, Marina, was born to complete the family. In the Clark County DA’s office, Don was most proud of his work obtaining a conviction against the drunk driver who killed the daughter of Steve and Sue Tanner of Overton.  

In 1994, Don was appointed to the Eighth Judicial District Court by Governor Bob Miller. His noted decisions would be protecting small property owners, such as Carol Pappas and the Aztec Casino, against eminent domain abuses by the City of Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency. As a judge, Don would often say, “The law is not just about a bunch of words on a piece of paper, but about people’s lives”. After an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress in 1998, a race he lost by only 5,000 votes in a district that had 40,000 more voters of the other party, Don returned to private practice winning several cases before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2019, Don returned to work as a prosecutor, this time working as a Deputy District Attorney for Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia. Although Mr. Arabia was a graduate of the crosstown rival UCLA Law School, Don respected his keen intellect and treasured his friendship.  

Don was predeceased by his parents, MSgt. Pedro Chairez in 1973 and Clotilde (Patiño) Chairez in 2009. He is survived by his wife, Maria, and daughters, Monica and Marina, of Las Vegas; siblings, Dina Schwalbach (Jon) of Oxnard, CA, David Chairez (Krista) of Las Vegas, and Dennis Chairez of Las Vegas, and four nieces and three nephews. He is also survived by three aunts, two uncles, and 17 cousins. 

There will be a limited family service for Don at the Boulder City Seventh-day Adventist church on February 14 followed by burial at the Boulder City Municipal Cemetery. Later this year, there will be two Celebrations of Life for Don near his 66th birthday, one in Las Vegas, Nevada and one in Northern California, when it is safe for all to properly respect this great man. If you would like to help the family celebrate Don’s life by attending one of these events, please email Marina Chairez at

The family will be updating Don’s website,, to create a permanent memorial for Don with photos, remembrances, speeches, and updates on planned events. Don always valued education and if you want to make a donation in his name, you can contribute to the Sacramento Adventist Academy, 5601 Winding Way, Carmichael, CA 95608 with a note of “worthy student donation in memory of Don Chairez” or to the  Don Chairez Scholarship at the UNLV Foundation, Box 451006, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-1006, which can also be accessed online at  

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