Fran Ryan has been getting a lot of awards lately.
"Do they know something I don't?" she mused the other day.
If it involves programs aimed at keeping senior citizens in their homes and coordinating services for them, probably not.
Francine C. "Fran" Ryan, 76, onetime city councilwoman, briefly a county commissioner, long the city clerk, a Carter Administration appointee to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first woman to chair the Franklin County Democratic Party and Mayor Michael B. Coleman's ambassador to the older residents of Columbus, will be picking up yet another accolade on Wednesday, Sept. 22
The "Columbus icon and crown jewel of our senior community," in the words of a spokeswoman for Heritage Day Health Centers, will be presented that day with the 2010 Heritage Award for Caring during an open house and reception at the Northland location for the centers.
"Each year the board of trustees of Heritage Day Health Centers offers the Heritage Award for Caring to an individual who embodies the spirit of community caring," executive director Erica Drewry said in a prepared statement. "A more compassionate advocate for the tenured citizens or our city than Fran does not exist and we are overjoyed to have her as our 2010 honoree."
Presenting Ryan with the award will be honorary event chairman Mike Curtin, associate publisher emeritus for The Columbus Dispatch. Ryan chose Curtin herself.
"I waved him down at the Clarmont one morning and said, 'You're the one,' " she said.
The two have known one another for nearly four decades.
"I was there at the outset," Curtin said. "When she ran for Columbus City Council in 1971 I was a student journalist at the Ohio State Lantern."
"He interviewed me when he was at The Lantern," Ryan recalled.
"We've been in contact ever since," Curtin said.
"We may not agree on anything, but we have a wonderful respect for one another," Ryan added. "He's very caring."
"I've had the good fortune of meeting and covering scores of elected officials of both major parties," Curtin said. "I've always had a tremendous respect for people who are willing to do what it takes to make the sacrifices, to give such a big piece of their lives to the public. Most of these folks do honorable service. Some don't, and sometimes they get more coverage than some of the others.
Fran Ryan was born in New York City. The family moved to Pittsburgh when she was 12 and remained there until she was a sophomore in high school when they relocated once again, this time to German Village.
Fran's husband, Dick Ryan was very active in the local Young Democrats organization, but it was wife Fran whom Mayor M.E. Sensenbrenner approached to run for council when the uncle of former councilwoman and current county clerk Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessy left to run for higher office.
"I was intrigued," Fran Ryan recalled "I said, 'Me, a mother of five, running for council?' "
Not just running, but also winning.
"It was almost like earth shattering," Ryan said. "Being on council allowed me to do some things I never could have done."
These included laying the foundations for the system of area commissions and community councils as well as starting some food pantries, one of which eventually grew into the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Ryan said.
Ryan was on council for two terms, 1971-77. She made two unsuccessful bids for Congress, losing the latter election by a mere 1,200 votes.
Not long after Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, he named her administrator of a six-state region for the U.S. Department of Labor. She moved to Chicago with her family, but kept her home in the Northland area.
"I have a big heart for here," Ryan said.
Ryan returned to Columbus and became city clerk after Reagan's defeat of Carter at the polls in 1980.
She was in that post from 1981 to 1984 when then-Gov. Richard Celeste appointed her to the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. She lost a bid for a full term and returned to the city clerk job from 1984 to 1988.
Ryan became chairwoman of the Franklin County Democratic Party in December 1987.
Ryan was chairwoman of the Franklin County Board of Elections from 1987 to 1996.
After officially retiring from politics in 1994, Ryan embarked on yet another career, this time selling cars for Byers Chevrolet. She still does that, but Coleman enticed her to return to public service as his adviser on senior issues.
"Fran Ryan has for decades been a treasure for Columbus as well as a good friend and adviser to me," Mayor Coleman said in a statement.
Ryan is co-founder and acting chairwoman of the Senior Services Roundtable, a 160-member informational clearinghouse that meets monthly to exchange news concerning services and programs for senior citizens throughout central Ohio.
In January Ryan was honored as one of WSNY's "20 Outstanding Women You Should Know."
More recently, Ryan was named winner of Medical Mutual's Platinum Award at the company's 2010 Outstanding Senior Volunteer Awards event.