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A memorial service in honor of Summit County Executive Russell M. "Russ" Pry, who passed away at the age of 58 on July 31, will be Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron.
A celebration of Mr. Pry's life will follow at Tangier on West Market Street in Akron from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Pry's name may be made to the American Cancer Society or the Visiting Nurse Service.
Mr. Pry was diagnosed with colon cancer in June and had been recovering since surgery on June 14, according to a press release from Pry's office.
He died "peacefully" July 31 shortly after 5 p.m. when a "series of setbacks in his recovery became too much," the release said.
Mr. Pry was sworn in as the fourth Summit County Executive on July 13, 2007. As Executive, he served as the chief executive officer of county government, with an annual budget of nearly a half a billion dollars, according to the Summit County website. County departments under the Executive's authority include: Administrative Services, Communications, Community and Economic Development, Sanitary Sewer Services, Finance and Budget, Human Resources, Job and Family Services, Law, Insurance and Risk Management, and the Medical Examiner.
County Council president is interim executive
In accordance with the Summit County Charter, County Council President Ilene Shapiro will serve as interim County Executive until the Central Committee of the Summit County Democratic Party meets Aug. 11 to appoint a person to serve as Executive for the balance of Mr. Pry's term, which expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The committee will also select a candidate to run for election to the county executive post (See related story on Page 21 for more details).
Eyed development, saving tax dollars
Since being appointed to the position of Executive, Mr. Pry focused a significant amount of efforts on improving local economic development. Pry, along with city and state officials, played a leading role in keeping Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations Technical Center and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Global and North American Headquarters and Innovation Center in Akron, according to the county website. Together, both projects would ensure that 3,900 jobs remain in Summit County.
Executive Pry collaborated with numerous government offices and community organizations in an effort to save tax dollars, eliminate governmental redundancies and enhance services for citizens. As one example, under Executive Pry's leadership, the county has consolidated building department operations with the city of Akron and several other communities including Cuyahoga Falls. Additionally, Executive Pry brought together more than 53 agencies to establish and lead the county's highly successful and award-winning early childhood initiative, First Things First.
Mr. Pry, a lifelong resident of Summit County, obtained a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Kent State University and a Juris Doctorate from The University of Akron School of Law in 1984.
Missed by those who knew him
"Russ was always willing to talk about ideas and plans. He never turned down a request to meet and talk through an issue," said Stow Mayor Sara Kline. "Even though he held a position that required him to juggle many issues, Russ was interested in what was happening in all the communities across the county and would often ask me about specific employees in Stow that he hadn't seen in a while."
She added, "He genuinely had concern for the most vulnerable citizens of our county and worked hard to make sure that everyone had opportunities to improve their lives."
"I was saddened Sunday to learn of the passing of Russ Pry. It was about 20 years ago when I first met Russ, while working on a federal case with his then-law partner Randy Briggs,"remembered Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong. "Although our paths as lawyers did not often cross, our legal background made our meeting just two weeks after I was sworn in as mayor very friendly. He was personally helpful to someone who had just been elected to office for the first time and I appreciated his insights and advice regarding local government. Russ Pry genuinely wanted to improve his community."
Munroe Falls Councilmembrs Steve Stahl and Jim Iona both praised Pry for his efforts to talk to and work with people.
"Summit County lost a great person, a great leader, a great friend," said Stahl.
Council President Gary Toth, along with Councilmembers Jenny Markovich and John Hegnauer, also praised Pry.
"We are really going to miss him," said Markovich.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters, a fellow Democrat, said he first met Mr. Pry when he was chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party and Walters was just elected to his first term on Cuyahoga Falls City Council in 2001.
"When I first started on Council, he took the time to meet with me and I've had a lot of good dealings with him ever since," Walters said. "I was new. I knew nothing and no one. He met with me and congratulated me."
Walters said when he became mayor in 2013 his contact with Mr. Pry increased. Walters and Pry served together on the Summit County 911 Planning Committee. They also worked together along with the Summit County Land Bank to secure federal funds to purchase and demolish two blighted houses in Cuyahoga Falls made uninhabitable by flooding on May 12, 2014.
Walters said Mr. Pry's ability to bring people together for the common good was "amazing." He apparently had a good memory for names, too, according to the mayor. "He knew the name of every mayor in Summit County and nearly every council member and township trustee. That's pretty extensive," Walters said.
"There was no selfishness," he said. "He worked to encourage people to work together / Big shoes to fill."
"Russ was a dedicated public servant from the time he served, at age 19, as a Mogadore [Village] Council member, until the day he died," said Summit County Councilman John Schmidt (D-District 2). "He loved helping people and making our community better. He shepherded Summit County through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
"We are in solid financial condition today because of him. His efforts ensured that Goodyear and Bridgestone-Firestone remained where they belong,in Summit County. His list of accomplishments are too numerous to mention. He will be sorely missed."
Russell Balthis, law director for the city of Cuyahoga Falls and a former member of Mr. Pry's staff said, "Russ dedicated his life to serving the citizens of Summit County. There are few people more dedicated to getting good people elected and to mentoring people into and through their lives of public service. He served well and he will be missed."
Balthis°was a law clerk in Mr. Pry's°office from 2004 to 2006. Balthis also°was executive director of the Summit County Democratic Party while Mr. Pry was Chairman of the county Democrats from 2006 to 2008.°
In a press release, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said, "I've lost a great friend much too early. We will all miss his leadership and his ability to bring people together. Russ had an uncanny knack for empathizing and identifying with all people, regardless of their age, race, gender, orientation or creed, making him well-loved by all. Personally, I will miss his friendship, his quick wit and his invaluable advice."
The release stated the city of Akron will continue to work as a partner with the county "in any way possible as the administration transitions during this difficult time."
"Russ was the consummate public servant; all public officials should strive to be more like him," said Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey. "A family friend, a kind and caring man, a person who could always be counted on for help and guidance, Russ will be greatly missed. Russ always made me feel welcome and important. When speaking with him, I knew he listened. The work he did on behalf of the residents of Summit County was monumental. We are all in a better place because of the dedication, intelligence, passion and compassion of this man. Surely heaven will now become an even more well-organized, well-run, more efficient community."
"Russ first and foremost was a dear friend, a thoughtful, compassionate human being who always put the good of the people ahead of politics," Congressman Tim Ryan (D-13th District) said in a statement released to the media from Akron.
"I have never seen a better leader than Russ Pry, who made local government work efficiently and effectively for the people he represented. He had no ego and always brought people together to make lives better for ordinary people.
"There is a huge hole in Summit County today and a huge hole in my heart as well -- one that can never be filled. But we can all learn from how Russ conducted himself; always with humility, always responsibly and, for those of us in public life, always making sure government was creating opportunity for those who were looking to get ahead in life."
Ryan said he extends his "deepest sympathies to Russ' family and his amazing group of friends and coworkers who know better than anyone the amazing gifts that Russ brought to the people of Summit County. He was a friend, a leader, a generous and brilliant public servant lost too soon."
"Summit County, the Ohio Democratic Party and all of Ohio have lost a truly great leader," said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is running for the U.S. Senate this fall. "Russ will be remembered as a true champion for Ohio families and someone who worked tirelessly to improve his community, and our state. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I wish them peace."
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), from his office in Washington, issued a statement. "/ [We] are saddened to hear of Russ' passing and offer our deepest sympathies to his family and the Summit County community," Brown said. "His loss will be felt by all those whose lives were made better by his service to his community."