This was a streak I never wanted to have. For the second consecutive Sunday, an untimely death dominates the other news and becomes the topic of focus, first with dedicated chamber volunteer Chris Delgado and now with former County Administrator Randy Oliver.
Randy was the kind of person who you could ask three people about and end up with five different opinions. He’d personally care about none of them.
He and I got off to a rocky start. I wrote a couple of letters to the editor in 2017 shortly after moving here accusing him of orchestrating the county’s abrupt takeover of fire services and he didn’t talk to me much when we were at meetings, which wasn’t surprising to me because he didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would conversate with anyone, let alone me.
But this changed. After I managed Commissioner Scott Carnahan’s successful 2018 bid for reelection, Randy would seek me out in meetings with resounding greetings and stay for some small talk. One thing that always shone through no matter the conversation was his sheer brilliance.
He was built like a computer from the 1960s that would impose against a wall yet his brain had the operating capacity of machines not yet designed. His deliberately slow conversational tone and objectively disengaged demeanor may have been mistaken as a lack of attentiveness to the job, but in reality, Randy’s work ethic was legendary. Before every big decision the commission had to make, there would inevitably be a commissioner who thanked him for the email they received at 3 a.m. after having asked him for something after close of business on a weekend. He truly defied the traditional stereotype of a 9-5 government employee.
We do this, though, with superstar athletes, longtime politicians or our neighbors. We gloss over the bad and only remember the good in times when tragedy strikes too soon. Kobe Bryant’s checkered past with criminal allegations and sharply declining play while still demanding to be the highest paid player were barely discussed in the wake of his fatal helicopter crash.
And it’s also worth noting that Randy wasn’t our neighbor. He retained residency in Escambia County in the tip of the Panhandle, the county that had previously fired him, during his entire eight year tenure.
The Chronicle reported the board had just found out that Randy had remarried after his wife had died about a year prior. That would be a strange thing to not know about someone you work so closely with, but yet it was quintessentially Randy. The appointed leader of the county was as stoic as he was enigmatic so we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that the same person who was so tied to his Escambia County home that he commuted half the state for almost a decade had already road-tripped the east coast and had plans to travel Europe.
Yet Randy’s life serves as a good lesson for how we can remember him in death. Two things that seem like their opposites can be true at the same time. He can be a dispassionate administrator and romantic traveler. He undoubtedly saved Citrus County from financial insolvency and yet ran the county on such a skeleton budget that it potentially hurt us in the long term, especially on residential road resurfacing.
He was both overqualified for his position, and so terrified of losing it that the assistant county administrator position was left vacant for five years, a supplemental leadership void that likely led to a mass senior staff exodus over the last year and a half. He could be the most efficient administrator in Citrus’ history and also be an ineffective communicator who created a lost culture among his staff and a distrusting climate among his constituents.
Lastly, he could have represented a time in Citrus that had run its course and yet still have a legacy that will stand the test of time. Earlier this year, it was floated to name Meadowcrest after the late Commissioner Dennis Damato. Naming something after Randy would be appropriate as well.
As Commissioner Scott Carnahan told the Chronicle, it’s hard to describe because it hasn’t sunk in yet. That remains true even days later. We would not be where we are without him, for better and for worse, and he will be sorely missed.