Photograph by Maven Photo and Film
May Sue Rich is an Ocala native. She graduated from Howard High School in 1957, during a time when much of the South was segregated. She earned a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida and started working with the Florida Department of Corrections in 1972. She worked at Lowell Correctional Institution, then Florida Correctional Institution as a corrections officer, and later in probation, retiring in 2003. Rich was first elected to the City Council in 1995, representing District 2, which covers much of Northwest Ocala. She was the first Black woman and third Black to serve on the council. In 2003, she helped establish the Racial Harmony and Cultural Awareness Task Force’s REACH Program. REACH works to try and unite all cultures in the city. Ms. Rich served on City Council until she retired in 2019.
Ruth Reed is the longtime president of Neighborhood Citizens of Northwest Ocala. Reed and her watchdog group emerged when the Royal Oak charcoal plant was still running and led efforts to hold them accountable for its effects on the environment and human health, especially in the West Ocala neighborhood. She fought for the closure of the plant and refuge from its soot and fallout for 10 years. After the plant closed in 2006, due in part to efforts by Reed and her group, the City of Ocala purchased the property and will repurpose it for future City development. In April 2020, the Ocala City Council adopted a resolution to rename the property Reed Place. The City will be constructing a new community center at the site named after Mary Sue Rich.
Carolyn Adams is a nurse and a hospital administrator who spent her career in South Florida and grew up in West Ocala. The Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness and Community Resource Center is the brainchild of Carolyn Adams and her late husband Arthur who moved back to Ocala after retirement. After realizing her childhood neighborhood had become a “health desert”, the dream for the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center was formed. Named after Adams’s grandmother, the clinic began as a few rooms in the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on Seventh Street in Ocala and continued to operate for a number of years. Plans for a permanent building were put on hold when her husband’s health declined, and he passed away in 2013. But it wasn’t long before Adams was back working on the dream they shared. Today the center is a mobile health unit that provides care for low income citizens and a range of other services for the purpose of improving the quality of life without regard to health insurance or ability to pay. Today the Center has a free-standing, physical structure located across from St. Paul AME Church, providing free health services.