County commission meetings rarely surprise.
A vote may go a little different than I’m thinking but most have an ebb and flow.
So, when commission Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach on Tuesday told a hushed room she had breast cancer, I immediately shook to the core.
Schlabach, who now holds the gavel in her third year as commissioner, said her cancer is “survivable” but she called the treatment “brutal.”
Oh my God.
Let me tell you about my friend Ruthie.
Some people get their first taste of government through activism. Ruthie was one of them; she and her husband Jarey had battled with the county over a parking lot issue and won.
Politics followed. She ran for office and lost in 2018, then ran again in 2020. I recall a busy six-candidate primary and some of her opponents weren’t nice. We spent many hours on the phone, dissecting her campaign. Ruthie kept the high road and I was thrilled when she won big.
After she took office, our chats grew more intense at times. I realized — this happens a lot more than you’d think — Ruthie knew few people who would be honest with her without having a personal stake. So, um, honest I am, and honest she is right back.
There came a day when my career at the Chronicle ended and I wondered what came next. If the immediate future included doing generally the same thing I was doing before retirement (shaving off the stuff I didn’t like), I had to figure out a way to do that without having the newspaper as my vehicle.
After former boss Gerry Mulligan gave me some general marching orders, I made a list of people I needed to speak with to let them know I was still around.
Ruthie’s name was the first on that list.
I sent her a text. We met at Cattle Dog’s. It was all new to me.
I don’t recall the details. She encouraged me, that I know.
And Ruthie provided a valuable lesson that resonates to this day. At Just Wright Citrus, it’s all about relationships and conversation. Both are going to have highs and lows, but the key is to keep moving.
When I learned a month or so back about Ruthie’s diagnosis, I reached out and we had a very un-Mike/Ruthie conversation. I knew as the weeks went by she struggled with how to tell people.
Then came Tuesday. My brain was elsewhere when I heard Ruthie say she had “b-cancer” and that it was Stage 2, maybe 3. She had my immediate attention.
My notes are a jumble:
“I’m going to be out dealing” with chemo and surgeries.
“Luckily I have a strong network. I hope my colleagues can help support me in this.”
Surgery won’t be immediate. Had hoped for better news. Will know more on Thursday.
Plans to attend the next meeting in June, but not in July. Vice chairman Holly Davis will fill in during Ruthie’s absence.
“It’s totally survivable. The treatment is brutal but it is survivable. I’m a strong, mean Irish woman. I just need a little bit of grace. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m on vacation sitting on a beach.”
When we first talked about her diagnosis, Ruthie expressed concern for her public mission. As chairman of a forward-moving board, she for the first time gets to experience government the way it’s supposed to work. I certainly understand where she’s coming from.
But even Ruthie knows it’s time to focus on things much more vital than the Inverness Airport Business Park. I love my friend and I trust God has her.
Ruthie can call me and gripe anytime she wants (she’ll no doubt find something wrong with this blog). She’s earned it.
Ruthie, our friend, please allow Citrus County to care for you now.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.