In Bill Mason's childhood home in Parma, "laid back" was not an option.
With 16 kids in the family, you had to fight for pretty much everything you wanted -- even dinner.
"We ate at 5 o'clock on the button, and if you weren't there, you were out of luck," Mason recalls. "My mom would try to save you some, but usually, it was gone."
There's no doubt in his mind that growing up in an every-kid-for-himself home helped shape the man he became.
For one thing, he's prompt -- go figure.
But that crowded Parma house, filled with brothers who won state wrestling titles, also instilled drive and determination.
"There was more competition growing up in my home than out in the world," he laughs.
Mason steps down this week as Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, a job that was supposed to be a stepping stone to higher office but ended up lasting 14 years.
"I always thought I'd be governor of Ohio, or a U.S. senator from Ohio, and I didn't get there," he says.
Even when he was law director of Parma, he was matter-of-fact and open about his political aspirations.
But when the chance to run for Ohio attorney general surfaced in 2006 -- the election was won that year by Democrat Marc Dann, who resigned amid scandal less than two years later -- Mason backed out of the campaign before he began.
Every weekend, he'd travel around the state, building contacts -- and missing his kids' soccer and basketball games.
"I decided I needed a couple more years before I could campaign statewide," he says.
A couple years later, things had changed.
"When the door's open in front of you, you've got to run through it," Mason says. "It closes quickly."
In retrospect? Still the right call.
"I have no regrets," he says. "I'm pretty happy with my accomplishments."
The Corruption Probe
When the FBI launched an investigation into former Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, former Auditor Frank Russo and many underlings, Mason found himself criticized for failing to uncover the corruption himself.
He said then -- and maintains today -- that his office did not know about the back-door deals and bribes.
"We'd be at the same events, but we weren't friends," he says of Dimora and Russo. "We were like ships passing in the night."
Mason's friend and political ally, Dean DePiero, a former state representative and mayor of Parma, says Mason did not socialize with Dimora, Russo or their crowd.
"He was the prosecutor -- they weren't going to do things openly and tell him about them," DePiero says.
Still, the probe opened a dark stretch for the prosecutor's office as the local media tried to link Mason to wrongdoing. He says that for months, the Plain Dealer would send three or four reporters to his office a day, each looking for information from a different case or issue, often years old, "trying to find dirt."
"It made it hard to function for a while," Mason says. "They distorted facts, made it look like I was a criminal."
He still wonders why the paper came after him so hard.
"My opinion is that I had garnered too much political power, and they felt they had to change that," he says.
Still, Mason leaves office proud of a lot of things -- his office's 92 percent conviction rate, creating a cold case unit, spearheading a group to look into wind turbines on Lake Erie, and especially the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a local effort he started to nab online predators that went statewide at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice.
"I'm very happy about where it's gone," he says. "We're catching the predators before they're getting to our kids."
Mason, 53, has taken a job as a litigator with the law firm of Bricker & Eckler.
He and his wife, Carol, moved to Seven Hills a few years back and their kids are doing well -- Kelly, the oldest, just took the bar exam; Marty is in his second year of law school; Cassie, 19, is at Ohio State University, studying to be a psychologist, and Jordan, 16, is at Padua Franciscan High School and wants to be a dentist.
Will he miss the prosecutor's office? Sure.
"I think I'll miss being in the mix," he says. "Every day, major events happened -- there was a major murder case, or we'd work on the medical mart, or whatever. It was difficult and high-stress, but I lived on that."
He doesn't rule out another run for public office someday, but don't look for him to be the next mayor of Seven Hills -- the job would have to be a pretty big one.
"The reality is, I'm probably done with elected office," he says.
And that's okay.
"I've done it for 20 years, and I've enjoyed every inch of it," he says. "Now I'll give 110 percent to this and see where it takes me."