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Reporter's leave is loss for all of us

By this time next week, you may find me collapsed in a heap, sobbing.

Diane Rado is taking a 10-month leave to accept a fellowship at the University of Michigan. To fully understand my despair, you need to know that "Rado" is the only one among us who truly understands education and the state's $48-billion budget.

I feel like my right arm has decided to depart for a year, leaving me to fend for myself without the help it gives me each day. You should know how far back in history Rado and I have traveled together.

Rado joined the Times reporting staff up in Hernando County in 1983. My husband, Richard, supervised her. Night after night he would call home and tell me he was running late _ waiting for Rado to finish.

Six years later, in 1989, Rado arrived in Tallahassee to help us cover state government. By then Richard was retired and waiting patiently at home for a wife who was late _ waiting for Rado.

In between those years Rado covered Hernando and Pasco counties, city government in St. Petersburg and higher education.

Along the way, Rado married Pete Reinwald, now sports editor for the Tallahassee Democrat, and had three children. She took leaves for the births of Andrew, 11, Becca, 8, and Greg, 5, returning each time to pick up where she left off with hard-hitting coverage of state agencies, the Legislature and education.

I recall getting a phone call in her early years in Tallahassee from a bureaucrat who wanted me to know he didn't really have a complaint about Rado, but he found it frustrating to be questioned by her.

I understood. I still understand. She is a force that relentlessly bores in on the object of her attention, missing nothing as she goes after the facts.

Those who would misspend money or commit sexual harassment or racial discrimination in state government have much to fear from the likes of Rado. She is relentless. She begins each day "outraged" anew at such transgressions.

And she does just as much to question what is going on inside the newsroom as she does to look at what is happening outside.

She understands exactly what impact each little tweak of the education law or budget will have on classrooms. Who better to understand than a mother who has three children in public schools?

I should also tell you that Rado does this from a desk that is incredible. The worst part of her fellowship from her perspective is that I'm making her clear the desk so her substitute _ who has yet to be named _ can see wood.

You should understand that I, too, have a desk that my own husband has described as "the city dump," but I know where everything is and I have a sign that says "A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind" to help explain.

Rado isn't through with the desk-cleaning task, but we are far enough into it that she has found FIVE staplers buried in the morass. For years the rest of us have accused Rado of stealing our staplers, but we could never find the evidence. Each time a stapler disappeared we would juggle whatever was left for a while and ultimately buy a new one.

Sometimes we thought our office might be stalked by a stapler thief _ but deep in our hearts we knew it was Rado.

She also found her 1994 profit-sharing statement, a 1990 application for a homestead exemption and most of the files that have long been missing.

Thursday is Rado's last day. She and Pete will load up the children for the temporary move to Ann Arbor and the world of academia. Rado promises to return filled with energy and the will to take on whatever goes wrong in her absence. She will also be a year older when she returns _ but she would shoot me if I told you that she'll be halfway to 80 by then.

The rest of us _ Julie Hauserman, Jo Becker and our still-to-be-named player _ ask for your help and your indulgence as we try to understand the state budget and education. Who knows, we might even let a token man in the door to help out. Now that we have lost reporter Peter Wallsten to the editorial board, we are the only all-female state capital bureau in Florida. Peter constantly thought he was surrounded by mothers.

"Sisters," Rado insisted.