Everyone makes mistakes and, thankfully, most of us don’t have to worry about seeing them reported in the news.
Lillian Shirley, the head of the Multnomah County Health Department since 1999, is not so lucky.
“This is an incredibly sad time for me and my family,” she said Thursday.
Just hours earlier, it had been reported that police had responded to her home Monday night.
“I was involved in an incident at my home,” she said Thursday, referring to what happened when her husband of 40 years, Tom Davidson, returned home Monday. Earlier in the day, he had emailed her, informing her that he had a girlfriend and wanted a divorce.
Portland Police Officer Sean McFarland responded.
“Shirley told me that her husband has a new girlfriend and she wants him out of the house as soon as possible,” he wrote in his report.
“She had three glasses of wine before confronting her husband in the office area of the house. Shirley advised that she then started a physical altercation out of frustration about Davidson’s recent behavior. Shirley said that she then punched, kicked and yelled at Davidson in the office area of the home. Shirley told me that Davidson pushed her away, and at one point put his hands on her throat in an effort to get away.”
They fought some more. Shirley demanded that he leave the house, which he refused to.
So, she called 911.
Officer McFarland and Officer Clint Snodgrass responded and noticed that Shirley had a “red mark to the left side of her neck and a scrape to the small of her back.”
Davidson told officers that Shirley had bitten him.
According to Officer Clint Snodgrass: “I asked Davidson to show me where he was bit and he lifted up his right pant leg and showed me a significant bite to his right calf. The bite broke through the skin and both the upper and bottom teeth marks were still bleeding. I asked Davidson if she bit him any other places and he said ‘yes, all over.
Shirley ended up arrested on charges of domestic violence because she told police that she had made the initial contact
“Any matter involving domestic violence is serious, and I make no excuse for this one,” Shirley said on Thursday. “I make no excuse for my judgment and the fact that the incident was compounded by poor choices about alcohol that I unfortunately made during extremely difficult life circumstances.”
As the head of the health department, Shirley leads the largest department in the county of terms of employees. Only the sheriff’s office has a larger budget. Since arriving from Boston where she headed the Public Health Commission, she has built her department into one with a national reputation – something she recognizes may be tarnished by her actions.
“Our department has won deserved accolades for our efforts, and we have worked hard to build a national reputation for innovation and success,” she said. “I sincerely apologize for any impact my personal life has had on the department and on the county. I am confident that the department’s long-term reputation will continue and that we will maintain its high standard.”
Shirley said that she is taking this chance to examine what led her to this point.
“As any human being would do after an incident like this, I am closely examining my own behavior,” she said Thursday. “While every one of us is fallible and has a stress point, I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Everyone makes mistakes. Shirley is clearly not proud of hers. She is also smart enough to see that it’s not the end of the world.