This week brought two kicks to the community gut and both left deep scars.
First on Tuesday, when County Commission Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach shared her breast cancer diagnosis from the dais.
Then Wednesday morning, word reached of the passing of Crystal River Councilman Pat Fitzpatrick following a courageous battle with cancer.
First off, condolences to Pat’s wife, Laura Lou Tolle Fitzpatrick, and all of Pat’s family. I didn’t know Pat as well as his late brothers Spike and Kevin, but I knew enough that he was a true Fitzpatrick.
In Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy’s story posted Wednesday, lifelong Inverness resident Sandra “Sam” Himmel recalled fond memories of life with the Fitzpatricks.
“Those five boys were a real band of brothers,” Himmel said. “We grew up with them, and Pat was always the life of the party. He loved people and could always make you laugh.”
Ruthie's diagnosis one day, Pat's passing the next. It got me thinking about community and the role political leaders play.
We talk a lot about big government and small government. While most people tend to see those two in terms of size, I see the difference in terms of accessibility.
Congressman Gus Blirakis is a nice guy but I can’t just call him on the phone to complain when my garbage isn’t picked up.
Rep. Ralph Massullo and Sen. Blaise Ingoglia are stalwarts in their communities, but their legislative jobs generally don’t touch ordinary lives.
Come down to county commissioners and city council members and there we find our equals.
These folks are generally ordinary humans first and elected officials second. The successful commissioner or council member is one who doesn’t forget where he/she came from. Fortunately, because we’re all neighbors, they don’t venture far off.
In short, they don’t try to become what we’re not.
Citrus County hired an administrator years back who once worked for the governor. This administrator went and gussied up his office so it looked like it dropped from the Capitol. He had one way of looking at the community, commissioners had another way and the administrator was gone after a year.
County commissioners and city council members know their constituent needs because they live it too.
Almost all local elected officials are keenly involved in the community. People like Property Appraiser Cregg Dalton and Tax Collector Janice Warren were community rock stars long before getting their names on a ballot.
I think of other elected people that I’ve known for decades — Jacquie Hepfer, Robert Holmes, Joe Meek (I’m not sure he’s “decades” old though), Cabot McBride and Sam Himmel to name a few — and they’re all community leaders.
It’s easy to ignore politics when a councilman is in the trenches with the rest of us. We’re on a first-name basis with most locally elected folks. When we see them in the grocery store we ask about their families, not taxes or why C.R. 491 isn’t widened yet.
And when one announces she has breast cancer, we all react accordingly because Ruthie is our friend and neighbor.
And when one dies, a community deeply mourns. Pat Fitzpatrick was husband, son, friend, neighbor, father, grandfather, businessman — and councilman. His life touched others and in a small town, that presence is felt near and wide.
Sad as this is, it’s also a reason to celebrate. We live in a caring, loving community where people look out for one another. We’re far from perfect but most days we give it our best shot.
Pat will be missed by many. It’s cliché but true: Though gone, his spirit thrives.
As it does for all of us who call Citrus County home.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.