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Jan Platt's resounding 'No' drowns out pessimism in her fight against cancer

Commissioner No, the naysayers used to call her, in the same tone they might have said do-gooder, Girl Scout, librarian.

And they were right.

There were lots of nos in Jan Platt's years on the Hillsborough County Commission: no to overdevelopment, no to handing over wetlands, no to giving up on restoring the waters of Tampa Bay, a place she still likes to wet a line and hook a fine snook.

And especially no to the sort of old-school, backroom politics that got some of her fellow commissioners carted off in handcuffs.

There were plenty of yeses, too: yes to saving fishing piers at the old Skyway and Gandy bridges, yes to buying up environmentally sensitive land. That they named a library for tidy, forthright Jan Platt — not a staid government building, but a busy library alive with kids, books, programs and promise — is just about right.

Now, at 72, Jan Platt is facing her latest and biggest battle — personal this time, the same one she watched her sister fight decades ago.

Since it seems she's always been up there on the dais at some meeting or other, you might be surprised at what got her to run for office in the first place. Though as a young woman she studied government, really loved it, she was working as president of the Girl Scout Council when her sister died of breast cancer while only in her 30s.

Something changed, made her determined to do more — because you never really know what's coming, do you? She ran for the City Council in 1974, and a local political icon was born.

One of my favorite Jan Platt moments was when she ran for mayor in the 1990s, a race she would inevitably lose to the enormously popular Dick Greco. She had the political misfortune of being called to jury duty a day before the election, that last-chance time for the waving of campaign signs and glad-handing of voters.

But instead, there she sat perched on a marble courthouse bench, purse on her lap. "I have never asked to be excused in the past, and I do not intend to ask to be excused this time," she said, which was exactly what you would expect Jan Platt to say.

Technically, she has been out of politics five years now, though not exactly quiet. She is currently president of (deep breath here) the Head Start Community Foundation, Friends of the Library and Keep Hillsborough Beautiful. Even with the recent bad news from the doctor, she was front and center at the Gandy boat ramp last weekend for the Great American Clean-Up. A beautiful day, she says.

The doctors did not discover the mass on a mammogram, something that, being Jan Platt, she gets religiously, but they did find it and quickly did the surgery and scheduled the chemo to start this week. She bought her wig and made her plans to stock up on frozen meals from Wright's sandwich shop. She will tell you, firmly, "I plan to be out and about."

She has been amazed by the sisterhood that is out there, women she knew but never knew had this. "It's mind-boggling — there's a whole segment of our population who has waged this battle and won," she says.

She wanted me to write about this only if it could make a difference to someone else, strike a change, if it would remind the rest of us to keep up with our health screenings and also to live our lives — this one being Jan Platt's latest no.

Jan Platt's resounding 'No' drowns out pessimism in her fight against cancer 04/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 11:25am]
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