BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's community development director Jean Rags has announced that she will retire Oct. 21.
A 12-year county employee, Rags was responsible for overseeing county health and human services, veterans services, the library system, the housing authority, public health and county extension services.
Several months ago, Rags moved her ailing mother into her home to provide care and now that she is having "more bad days than good days,'' Rags said it's time to focus on providing her full-time care.
"I had always promised my dad before he passed that I would take care of Mom,'' she said. "She deserves that.''
Rags, 55, was hired as the coordinator for the county's first social services department in May 1999. Over the years, she has had diverse responsibilities and experiences in the job ranging from helping to coordinate volunteer and service efforts in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina to organizing the Centenarian program honoring county residents age 100 and older.
Getting to know the history some of those older residents would share helped put things in perspective, Rags said.
"We touched their lives but, in many ways, they touched our lives. They taught us about the important things in life,'' she said.
She has headed up major projects ranging from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the establishment of the New Beginnings Youth Shelter and the Community Development Block Grant program including multiple housing grants and grants to establish infrastructure for industrial development and utility improvements in south Brooksville.
Other accomplishments include pushing for the purchase of the property on which the new health department building has been built and securing the county's discount prescription card service for residents.
In June, Rags settled a sex discrimination suit with Hernando County and received a $16,143 raise taking her salary to $93,500. That salary put her in the same range as the male members of the county's leadership team who had also been giving increased responsibilities as the county staff has shrunk.
Rags submitted her letter of resignation to County Administrator David Hamilton on Wednesday. He told her that it was the letter he hoped never to receive and asked if there was any conversation they could have to make her tear it up.
But she responded that she had made up her mind.
"We respect her decision which was based on deep personal convictions that I admire,'' he said.
"The loss is huge,'' Hamilton said, noting that Rags epitomized the best of Hernando County with "her cheerful approach to work on complicated tasks and her characteristic drive on every assignment.''
Hamilton will meet with Rags in the coming days to go over a transition plan to determine how to fill the void her departure will leave.
"We will miss her every day,'' he said.
As Rags begins work on that plan, she said she felt confident that her staff will continue to get the job done.
"I wanted a strong department, efficient and effective. I hired good people to do really good things and I've been blessed with a wonderful team,'' she said.
Rags, who had worked at the Pasco-Hernando Community College for 12 years before she came to the county, said she had thrived on the busy nature of her tasks working for the county and the fact that in big projects and little successes for individual clients, she found the work to be satisfying.
"I really enjoyed my job,'' she said.
In that job, she also got to interact with a variety of outside organizations and resources and Rags said she considers many of those she has gotten to know in the community as her friends.
Rags attributes the philosophy of helping people to her father. "He always told me to make a difference wherever you're at,'' she said. "It's important to somebody.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.