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Friends, colleagues remember County Executive Russ Pry

SHERRY KARABIN
Legal News Reporter

Published: September 1, 2016

He guided Summit County through some major economic bumps in the road, while working to improve the lives of veterans, children and the mentally ill, but on July 31 Summit County Executive Russ Pry passed away at the age of 58.

Pry had been battling colon cancer since being diagnosed in June, but friends and colleagues say his death was unexpected.

Summit County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Teodosio said he thought Pry was “on his way to recovery,” and did not realize “he would leave us so soon.

“He was a very generous and thoughtful man who really cared about people,” said Judge Teodosio. “He had a wonderful way of getting the two political parties to work together and collaborate.”

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan issued the following statement: “I’ve lost a great friend much too early. We will all miss his leadership and his ability to bring people together.”

Former Summit County Council President Ilene Shapiro has been appointed by the county’s Democratic Central Committee to serve the remainder of Pry’s term, which expires on Dec. 31 2016.

Shapiro, the first female county executive in the county’s history, is running for election in November.

Shapiro and Pry worked together ever since Pry was appointed county executive in 2007.

“Russ and I collaborated on many projects,” said Shapiro. “Philosophically we were aligned. We worked through the recession to keep the county financially stable, reducing the staff but keeping services the same. The county still has an excellent bond rating and we were both very proud of that.

“Russ definitely made a mark on our community and I’m hoping to expand on his legacy,” said Shapiro.

Born in Mogadore on May 30, 1958 to Helen Lucille (Morris) and Donald Pry, his maternal grandmother Elsie Morris is said to have played a key role in his upbringing, helping to mold his desire to help people.

“Russ used to say that his grandmother taught him that you always have time to be kind,” said Summit County Domestic Relations Court Judge Carol Dezso, one of Pry’s close friends. “His mother encouraged him to be a community activist and she was a serious Democrat.

“His mantra was ‘just do good,’” said Judge Dezso. “That was the phrase he tried to live by.”

Randy Briggs, deputy mayor for labor relations for the city of Akron, said Pry expressed great pride in the fact that he was born and raised in Mogadore.

“Russ always said ‘all roads lead to Mogadore,’” said Briggs, a longtime friend and former law partner.

Jeff Fusco, councilman-at-large in Akron and chair of the Summit County Democratic Party, said Pry was elected as a Mogadore Village council member at age 19.

Pry spent two terms on the Mogadore council. He also served as treasurer and chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and was a member of the Summit County Board of Elections.

“I’ve known him since the late ‘80s,” said Fusco. “We were members of the Young Democrats Club and I would say we were political friends.

“During his time as party chair he got a lot of great people elected,” said Fusco. “He was a master at bringing people together to solve problems. He always looked forward and he believed in paying it forward especially when it came to young politicians. His passing has truly left a void in the party and the county.”

Briggs said while Pry’s name is most often associated with politics, “his first love was the law.”

Pry, who got his bachelor’s degree in political science from Kent State University, received his juris doctor from The University of Akron School of Law in 1984.

It was at Akron Law that Briggs first met Pry. “I was a day student and Russ was attending night school because he was an aide to Congressman John Seiberling,” said Briggs. “We got to know one another a lot better after law school.”

In the mid-‘80s, Briggs recommended Pry for an associate position at the firm where he was working, Sternberg, Newman & Associates.

They also worked together at Cook, Davis & Briggs. Afterwards they started Briggs & Pry, where Pry focused on domestic relations, probate and some business law. Briggs said Pry mentored many younger attorneys. “When he was county executive, he even talked about possibly teaching when he retired.

“Russ really enjoyed helping people, but he did not want to be in the limelight,” said Briggs.

In fact, Briggs said when County Executive Jim McCarthy stepped down in 2007 and the Democratic Party sought to appoint Pry to the position, Pry expressed reservations. “I told him he was born for the job,” said Briggs.

As Summit County Executive, Pry joined hands with former Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, steering the county through the recession and focusing on economic development.

Pry worked with city and state officials to keep the Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations Technical Center and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company’s global and North American headquarters and innovation center in Akron.

He also eliminated governmental redundancies, including consolidating the county’s building department operations with Akron and several other communities.

“When Russ took over as county executive he already had many close relationships with judges and administrative heads on both sides of the aisle so when it came time to cut budgets, people were willing to listen to his arguments,” said Judge Dezso.

While Judge Dezso and Pry had known one another since the early ‘80s, she said they became close friends during the time he was county executive.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2009, I told Russ that I would not run for re-election,” said Judge Dezso. “He not only encouraged me to run, but he made sure I had volunteers to help out and assisted in raising money. He also picked me up and took me to all the events I had to go to.

“He used to say I was the sister he never had and I told him he was the brother I never had,” said Judge Dezso. “I would have done anything for him.”

Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio said one of Pry’s greatest accomplishments is First Things First. The initiative works to improve physical, mental health and early learning opportunities for young children in Summit County, while making sure families have access to support services.

“Russ had a very big heart for children,” said Judge Tucci Teodosio. “He recognized the importance of making sure young children had the tools they needed so they would get on a path to success early on.

“He was a wonderful caring man, who was very supportive of my efforts in the juvenile court. I will miss him personally and professionally.”

Pry also oversaw the opening of a new Veterans Service Commission building on East Waterloo Road in 2009.

Recently he assisted in the roll out of the workforce development initiative ConxusNEO, which is designed to connect county employers with new employees. He also launched Change Direction Summit County, a campaign to raise awareness about mental health. It kicked off in late July with the event, ‘Bringing Mental Health to Main Street.’

Judge Dezso said Pry could often be found at Rockne’s, which he called his “West Office.”

“There was a certain chair where he always sat and if you needed to catch him after work, it was a good place to do so,” she said.

“He started a charity campaign at the restaurant called ‘Change for Change.’ On the last Tuesday of each month from 5 to 7:30 p.m. patrons contributed to a selected charity,” said Judge Dezso. “Russ was always interested in helping those who could not help themselves.”

Pry never married and did not have any children of his own, but Judge Dezso said he adored his two nieces, Carly and Josie.

During the last two months of his life, Pry underwent three surgeries and spent a number of weeks in the hospital.

“His death stunned us all,” she said. “It’s been hard on everybody who cared about him.”

A memorial service took place on Aug. 13 at the John S. Knight Center. Almost 1,500 people gathered to celebrate Pry’s life.

Pry leaves behind his younger brother, David “Joe,” sister-in-law Carla, and nieces Carly and Josie, all of New Philadelphia as well as his godson Austin Adams and countless friends.


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