Ocala City Council members honored one of their own Tuesday night as longtime councilwoman Mary Sue Rich said goodbye after 24 years of service.
The remaining four council members voted to pay tribute to Rich by naming the new community center after her at the site of the old Royal Oak Charcoal Plant. Council members approved a conceptual plan for the new facility in March and it will now officially be called the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place.
The move follows a resolution adopted in April to rename the charcoal plant property “Reed Place” in honor of Ruth Reed, a longtime resident of the surrounding neighborhood who had spearheaded efforts to identify environmental issues at the facility, close it, clean up the property and eventually see it purchased by the city.
On Tuesday, Rich’s last official act as Council president was to preside over a lengthy hearing where the City Council refused to seat her District 2 replacement, Tyrone Eugene Oliver Jr., because he’s a convicted felon and not eligible to hold public office. After the vote, Rich handed said her goodbyes and handed over the gavel to incoming Council President Jay Musleh and new President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle. But she stayed behind in the audience until the Council voted to honor her with the naming of the community center.
Rich smiled as Kathy Crile, Ocala Recreation and Parks Director, recalled her 24 years of service. Crile reminded those in attendance that Rich had led the charge to develop the community center for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life for Ocala residents.
“Councilwoman Rich has been a tireless advocate for all of Ocala,” Crile said. “She sees a need for West Ocala residents to have ready access to health, wellness and social opportunities at a high-quality facility. Her vision is a multi-purpose center that can serve the entire family unit, across multiple generations and all walks of life.”
After the vote, Rich received a long round of applause from the Council members and the audience. She left the meeting a short time later but had promised that she would continue to attend meetings as a citizen and watch how Council members handled city business. And she hinted more than once that she might change her mind and throw her hat in the ring after a special election is called to fill her old seat.