There’s fun, there’s knee-slapping fun, and there’s the fun of having a bunch of people in the same room laughing at themselves.
Such was the case Friday night, when Gerry Mulligan’s pals gathered at Citrus Hills to heap jokes and praise on the man who retired in August as Chronicle publisher.
yMy friend Meredith Linley dreamed up this idea, and I was one of 12 (!) speakers (one of the few who abided by the 3-to-5 minute rule) and I genuinely said nice things about my mentor and former editor/publisher. That’s Gerry in the picture just over my left shoulder waving.
This was the third such gathering I’ve attended in recent years. The first was for retired Judge Patricia Thomas and the second for former Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill. Both of them attended Gerry’s shindig Friday.
As I’m mingling with folks, some I see every week and some I haven’t seen in years — Congresswoman Karen Thurman, for one — it comes to mind that this is a spectacular time to be living in Citrus County.
That might not be the first thing that comes to mind while stuck in traffic on State Road 44 that didn’t exist a year ago.
So let me walk through this a bit.
Wasn’t all that long ago that I sensed a bit of panic in some people. Maybe that’s too strong a word. Uncertainty might be better. Unease. It’s like we all went to sleep one night and awoke with 50,000 new neighbors. And all of them on the road, moving into new houses and invoking their words of wisdom on us hicks.
Suddenly, everyone was looking at our elected leaders for answers to the immediate growth problems: Traffic congestion, crime, yahoos on the water.
I’ve lived in Citrus County for 35 years, over half my life, and I’m dug in here. Saw a bunch of folks Friday night from those early days and we talked wistfully of what Citrus County has become.
These events are part wishful thinking for the old days and a resolve to push forward.
Citrus County is loaded with smart, bright, funny, well-rounded and energetic people who are enthusiastic for their community.
Friday night reminded me of that. Rather than rattle off the names of attendees, I can say that each individual I had contact with has touched our community in a personal and impactful manner.
For example, my table included:
—The Rev. Doug Alexander, pastor of the New Church Without Walls in Inverness. Doug and I go way back. When he was a sheriff’s school resource officer at Citrus High School, Doug told me of arresting kids for various offenses and ministering to them on the ride to jail.
“Those 20 minutes are mine and the Lord’s,” he told me.
— Lobbyist extraordinaire Gene McGee. There’s another guy I've known for years. We once attended a Bucs game with season tickets from a friend of Gene’s, had season ticket-holder parking and 50-yard-line seats. If I recall, my contribution was buying Popeye's Chicken for the tailgate.
Gene is one of these people just locked into the county, helping wherever he can. He just doesn’t talk about community engagement, he’s right there helping to guide it along.
— Retired Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni was known as a visionary. While his tactics were at times, um, imaginary, he had a vision for Inverness and worked each day to fulfill it.
Years ago, before Inverness looked anything like it does today, I saw Frank standing on the corner of Seminole/Dampier streets, deep in thought.
“If you’re waiting for the Crown bus, I don’t think it’s coming,” I told him.
“Something about this corner…” he said, still in thought. “Hmm. I’ll figure it out.”
That’s Citrus County. A community of caring, get-it-done individuals, organizations, politicians, environmentalists, pro-growthers, no-builders, up-and-comers, retirees.
There are so many challenges and at times they seem never ending. And there are many opinions as how to maneuver those challenges. But we can feel confident that so many, from such varied walks of life, are keeping a close eye as we progress.
We don’t need to worry about our community falling into a rat hole. Our citizens simply won’t let that happen.
Have an awesome Citrus County Monday, friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.