If intellect, energy and force of will in the 1990s could have turned Lake County from its race toward the out-of-control growth of the next decade, then Rolon Reed would have been legendary.
Heaven knows he tried.
The retired judge from New York with a soft spot in his heart for pigs and dogs managed deftly to help guide a fledgling majority of county commissioners who advocated slow growth and thoughtful government.
As county attorney in 1994 and 1995, he set in place a legacy of following the letter of the law — a process about which Lake had never been overly particular before his arrival. But the slow-growth majority was short-lived, and Lake went on to grow rapidly in the far-flung areas Reed passionately believed should remain off limits to development to maintain the county's rural lifestyle.
Reed, described as "the most interesting character I've ever met" by former commissioner Richard Swartz, died Sunday morning at the age of 80 after a long struggle with lung disease.
It's agony to watch men like Reed pass from the community. The Yale University-educated lawyer took with him a unique way of thinking and reasoning and an energy level that made things happen.
He had rare gifts, and his wife, Diana, knew it the first moment she saw him.
She had just moved to Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., in the early 1980s, where Reed, a partner in a prestigious Wall Street law firm, was the mayor. She attended a village meeting where he was presiding, seated at the apex of a V-shaped platform with the other trustees flanking him.
"Gavel in hand, he was wearing a navy-blue T-shirt emblazoned with large white letters that said 'IRATE TAXPAYER' and a Yankee baseball cap on his head. That evening was the first game of the World Series," she wrote in an email. "With liberal use of his gavel, Mayor Reed was dispensing decisively and quickly with one item of business after another so that everyone could get home to watch the ballgame.
"The energy he created in the room was palpable."
When the couple moved to my neighborhood in Lake Jem, Reed quickly hooked up with a group of slow-growth advocates plotting a takeover of the County Commission. When they won, they appointed Reed interim county attorney.
At the time, the state wanted Lake County to come up with a strong comprehensive plan that guided growth to the cities and kept urban sprawl out of rural areas. Property owners and development attorneys were leaning hard on the county to avoid such a thing, said Swartz, who was a commissioner then.
"There didn't seem to be any rational discussion at times. But Rolon was straightforward — 'Here's what it says. Here's what you have to do. You can't do this.' He didn't try to make it soft around the edges. He was full-speed-ahead-damn-the-torpedoes," Swartz reminisced.
"That was Rolon."
Folks who worked for the county thought Reed eccentric and quirky. They should have known him at home.
Once, Reed managed to get his hands on a collection of illegal fireworks, which he proudly displayed to neighbors — while smoking a cigarette. People scattered.
Some of the collection was set off during a party at his place, and it backfired into his screened porch, causing one person to leap out of the way in a panic.
"Oh, wow!" Reed exclaimed in his gravelly voice. "Far out!"
That was Reed's favorite expression, and it came in handy quite often.
Another time, he and former commissioner Rhonda Gerber together bought a pig at the county fair. Reed had the porcine unit brought to his farm, where he also kept a particularly troublesome herd of cattle. Their leader was a vicious cow named Delilah, who was usually engaged in either kicking or chasing Reed through the pasture.
Reed christened the pig "Rhonda," and she lived for a time in a little pig shed with a hand-lettered sign that proclaimed "Guest House." As a joke, neighbors toting forks and knives showed up with napkins tied around their throats, urging him to plan a barbecue.
Reed did finally have the pig converted to packages of ribs that ended up in a freezer in his garage. One night, however, he dreamed of Rhonda the pig's face looking at him from inside the freezer. The next morning, he gave away all the meat.
Reed was born in Pittsburgh. He graduated in 1953 from Columbia College, part of Columbia University, where he served as managing editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator newspaper staff. Reed was part of the editorial board that decided to endorse Adlai Stevenson for president during the 1952 campaign.
This was a bit touchy since Stevenson's opponent, Dwight Eisenhower, was Columbia University's president at the time. Typical Rolon.
Reed was also a member of the Columbia chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, succeeding pioneer sportscaster Roone Arledge as its president. He considered a career in journalism but eventually enrolled in Yale's law school.
Reed wasn't kidding when he said he wanted this inscription on his tombstone:
"I had a ball."
Here's hoping that he's having as much fun where he is now.
Lritchie@tribune.com Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laurenonlake.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun