MIAMI — When you ask Ruth Shack to recount her biggest political accomplishment, you might expect the former county commissioner to speak of ensuring equal rights for gays, or being the first commissioner to publicly oppose a tax increase for a sports stadium.
But for Shack, who is being honored as Citizen of the Year by the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce at its annual holiday gala on Dec. 5, her answer was simply, "My ability to get people to return my phone calls."
Shack told the South Florida Times during a telephone interview that "putting people together," was extremely gratifying, and "being a county commissioner gave me the opportunity to know that kind of person and to put those people together."
As a three-term Miami-Dade County commissioner from 1976 to 1984, Shack became known as an independent thinker who made decisions based on what she thought was right, not according to popular opinion.
She sponsored the amendment in 1976 to ensure equal rights for gays, an amendment that was shot down following singer Anita Bryant's well-orchestrated campaign against homosexuals. The ordinance was not reinstated until 1998.
Long before cash-strapped municipalities agreed to help build sports stadiums for millionaire team owners, Shack, in 1982, took a very public stand against raising taxes for the purpose of funding a sports stadium, insisting that the money would be better used to create jobs, eliminate crime, and improve the transit system.
That same integrity-filled leadership was front and center in her role as president of the Dade Community Foundation, a role she held from 1985 until last summer.
Even though she has infused the educational, social justice, religious, artistic and economic communities with almost $110 million, Shack said she wishes she could have done more.
Shack, 78, said her role at the foundation was a continuation of her work in government.
"At the foundation, I was able to burrow down and deal with individuals."
The married grandmother of five and mother of three daughters was also instrumental in the explosive growth of the foundation's assets – which went from about $4 million when she started in the mid-1980s to an estimated $167 million in 2007.
Shack said her post-retirement plans include several projects, but none that she will reveal. Asked if writing a book is among them, she laughed and said, "If I wrote a book, I'd have to leave town."
Also being honored at Saturday's gala are attorney Larry R. Handfield, who will receive the H.T. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award; and Bill Talbert, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, who is being honored with the Distinguished Service Award for his efforts in the hospitality and travel industry.
In addition to Handfield’s leadership roles at Jackson Hospital's Public Health Trust, the City of Miami's Police Oversight Board and as chairman of the Board of the James E. Scott Community Health Association, the Bethune-Cookman University alumnus has been a generous supporter of the historically black institution. The school's music building and new athletic training center are named for Handfield, who also serves as the Daytona Beach school's chairman of the board of trustees.
In his 19 years with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (10 as president, nine as Chief Operating Officer) Bill Talbert was instrumental in the passage of the Food and Beverage tax to fund GMCVB’s advertising budget, negotiating inter-local government funding agreements and preparing four successful Super Bowl bids.
Talbert also secured three Pow Wows for Miami, the travel industry's lucrative international marketplace.
Talbert has also been professionally affiliated with Camillus House, the Hands of Miami Advisory Board, the Orange Bowl Committee, the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, the Florida International University School of Hospitality Management Executive Advisory Board and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
Bill Diggs, the Miami-Dade Chamber's president and CEO, said gala attendees can expect another outstanding event.
“This is the event of the year for the minority business community,’’ Diggs said. “We will celebrate the many accomplishments we had in 2009 and look forward to new partnerships for 2010. The chamber invites all business, civic and community leaders, elected officials and budding entrepreneurs to join us and celebrate the chamber’s successes, especially our progressive efforts and activities on behalf of small, minority and women-owned businesses.”
Photo: Ruth Shack
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce Holiday Gala. Local songstress Leesa Richards and her nine-piece band will provide the musical entertainment.
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Hyatt Regency, 400 South East Second Avenue, Miami
COST: Individual tickets are $150; Corporate tables are $1,500.
CONTACT: Beverly James at 305-751-8648 or visit www.m-dcc.org.