Dr. Richard Ruppert died unexpectedly this week at age 81. With his passing, Toledo and Lucas County have lost a tireless advocate, a committed community builder, and a Renaissance man whose keen mind tackled projects that ranged from medicine and history to economic development and government reform.
Most Toledoans know Dr. Ruppert as the man responsible for transforming the former Medical College of Ohio into a first-rate medical school with modern facilities, accredited programs, and a growing list of well-qualified graduates. The institution, which became the University of Toledo Medical Center, is largely the result of his vision, leadership, hard work, and political acumen.
Such a legacy would be enough for most men. But Dr. Ruppert’s vision encompassed all of Lucas County, and he never shrank from a fight in his quest to improve this region.
He spent 12 years on the board of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, including a term as president. He shaped the Regional Growth Partnership, which became this region’s leading economic development agency.
Dr. Ruppert’s vision included preserving Ohio’s past as well as building a better future. As a member of the Fort Meigs advisory board, he helped it take over management of the historic site. He worked to raise state and private money to build a visitors center at the Perrysburg fort.
As president of the Ohio Historical Society board, he fought to increase membership and pushed for local groups’ involvement in historic sites. He was on the board of the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont.
In these capacities, his job often was to get other people to spend money. That meant persuading lawmakers in Columbus and business leaders from around the state to share his vision.
More often than not, he succeeded. And northwest Ohio benefited.
In 2009, Dr. Ruppert was honored for his public service with a prestigious Jefferson Award. But he wasn’t done.
Over the past two years, Dr. Ruppert was a leader in the effort to replace Lucas County’s antiquated government with a modern system that would save tax dollars and make elected officials more accountable. The campaign was unable to get a proposal on this year’s ballot, and the fight now passes to others.
They would do well to remember the advice Dr. Ruppert gave his Port Authority colleagues before he stepped down in 1999: “Do your job for the citizens and take on the fight,” he told them. “If you don’t step up and fight, I’ll let you know about it.”