BROOKSVILLE — To anyone who has noticed the frequent emptiness of Hernando County School Board member Susan Duval's chair at recent meetings and workshops, there's a good reason for her absence, Duval said.
Her daughter, Lee, a lawyer who lives in Connecticut, was diagnosed in August with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Duval, 69, moved there to take care of her daughter's two children, who are 10 and 6 years old.
"She reached out to me and asked me to help," Duval said. "I don't think, as a parent, when you get that kind of request, your response would be anything less than, 'What can I do? How do I help? And I'll get there as soon as possible.' "
Duval follows several other local elected officials who have lived remotely, including county Commissioner Jeff Holcomb, a reservist currently serving a deployment with the Navy, and former Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who split his time between Hernando and upstate New York while still on the board.
Duval said she has worked out a schedule to return to Hernando for one meeting per month and attend others by telephone while watching the proceedings online.
The board had to agree to allow her to attend remotely, and member Gus Guadagnino said he had no problem doing so.
"Not at all," Guadagnino said. "It's a very difficult situation. If she can take care of her business and give us the benefit of her wisdom and knowledge, then I think it's a win-win for everybody."
"I think it's worked out well for her in managing the situation," superintendent Lori Romano said. "This is a horrible thing to deal with, and we want to provide her with as much support as we can."
On Feb. 14, Duval did not attend either in person or remotely for the first time because her daughter spent the entire day in surgery.
"That's the first meeting I've missed, period," said Duval, who was elected in 2014.
She is able to access backup material for the meetings online and has also had documents mailed to Connecticut, she said.
"I spend the same amount of time preparing for each meeting," she said. "In fact, I probably spend more time."
Duval said her daughter has undergone an experimental chemotherapy regimen at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. That is due to be followed by seven weeks of daily radiation treatments starting in April.
If all goes well, Duval said, she will start spending more time in Hernando in June.
Though the form of cancer is a "wicked one" with a good chance of returning in other parts of the body, Duval said, the treatment has been successful so far.
"I've got every finger and toe crossed on this one," she said.
"My focus has been on trying to do everything I possibly can to help my daughter so all she needs to focus on is getting better."
Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]; follow @ddewitttimes.