Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saying goodbye to a good guy from Willoughby Hills

Since I covered my first meeting of an elected body in the summer of 1950 — it was the historic sacking by city council of Eastlake Law Director Wayne Davis — I have seen a few thousand public officials come and go.

Some of them were great, talented people; a few of them were half-wits; and most of them somewhere in between — neither good nor bad in the extreme but basically decent folks who were dedicated to their jobs.

Not one of them was nicer, more pleasant, easier to get along with or more thoroughly charming than Mort O’Ryan, the hard-working and efficient mayor of Willoughby Hills whose funeral was just five days ago.

And none was more involved in his city than Mort. If anything good was going on in Willoughby Hills, Mort had a hand in it.

Let me quickly insert a note so that we will all understand the level of partnership that existed between Mort and his lovely wife, Florine.

If ever the word “partners” had real meaning, it was exemplified by Mort and Flo.

If he was there, she was there. And vice versa. If there was a Lions Club meeting or a recreation board meeting or a pancake breakfast or any of a hundred other activities going on, both were there.

For the past few years, when walking became difficult for Mort, Flo would be on the pancake serving line and Mort would be in the lobby, selling raffle tickets for chances on something or other.

The venue would be the city’s community center, a stunning building that is the focal point of the city’s social activities, not to mention the site of its library.

I can say with some degree of confidence that without the O’Ryans there would not be a community center.
I felt all along the building should have been named the O’Ryan Community Center.

That there is indeed a large meeting room in the building named for the O’Ryans is a tribute to the love and affection that most people in Willoughby Hills have for them.

Building it was not easy. There was a faction in the city that wanted no part of it. That same faction was once represented on City Council, and it exerted such a negative influence that it did not allow Mort to sit at the council table during official meetings.

The indignity which that gracious gentleman put up with during that insidious era was more than most people could have endured.

But Mort persevered, and when council was finally cleansed of the miscreants by the voters, it was a large step into a new era of decency and comity.

Flo, of course, is a star in her own right, in the sense that the also held the leadership reins of an organization of some importance.

Mort was the mayor of Willoughby Hills, and Flo was president of the Lakeland Community College Alumni Association.

The husband-wife team is so linked in the minds of the public that they were honored together as distinguished citizens a few years ago by the Willoughby Rotary Club.

Willoughby Hills has had many mayors since 1954. Only four stick out in my mind. I covered Zophar Warner, the very first mayor when council met in the basement of Garfield School (remember that?); Martha Tyler, a gracious lady if ever there was one; and Mel Schaefer, who served longer and better that most of the others. And, of course, Mort.

No offense to any of the others. It’s just that they don’t come quickly to mind.

Bob Weger, the current mayor (also one of the good ones), described Mort as honest and straightforward. That he was. Bob also praised him as a mentor who helped him in the ways of good governance.

Mort was also something else that not everyone would be aware of. He was one of the regulars for Saturday morning gatherings at the Arabica coffee shop in Downtown Willoughby.

Mort was what you might call soft-spoken, which was just as well because he was not as inclined to espouse his opinions as some of the others.

I am not going to shy away from saying this: I was always one of the more vociferous (I employ that term rather than “mouthy”) ones.

Mort usually sat quietly, sipped on his coffee, and took it all in.

The outpouring of people at the funeral home was a tribute to the high esteem in which he was held. As the lady of the house and I stood in the long reception line, waiting to hug Flo and the other family members and express our condolences, we could identify dozens of others we consider close friends who were there because they loved Mort and who realize that there would never again be anyone quite like him.

This mortal coil may have lost a great human being, but Heaven has surely gained a winner.


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