Nearly a year after being appointed state surgeon general, Frank Farmer announced Monday he will leave the top job at the Florida Department of Health because his wife is battling breast cancer.
In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Farmer said his wife, Peggy, was diagnosed before Christmas and described her illness as a "life-changing event." Farmer said they decided he would stay in the surgeon general's job until Friday's end of the legislative session.
"She has had surgery and radiation and is continuing treatment,'' Farmer said in the letter. "We are both confident that she will have a complete recovery and cure but it is time for me to retire and support her and our family through this time.''
Farmer was well-known in medical circles when Scott appointed him last March to the job of surgeon general and Department of Health secretary. An internal-medicine physician from Ormond Beach, he had served as a member of the Florida Board of Medicine and as president of the Florida Medical Association.
During his tenure at the Department of Health, he has been most outspoken about curbing "pill mills" and prescription-drug abuse in the state. In his resignation letter, that was the only job-related issue that he addressed.
"I leave knowing that Florida is a safer place for its citizens and a much more dangerous place for those who would prey on them with inappropriate prescription drug abuse,'' he wrote.
In a statement issued by his office, Scott indicated he did not know before Monday that Farmer planned to resign and said his "thoughts and prayers" go to the Farmers. The governor's office said it was evaluating the next steps in replacing Farmer.
"Dr. Frank Farmer's resignation was an unfortunate surprise for me this morning, and I am sad to see him go,'' Scott said in the statement. "He has done an excellent job in his role as our surgeon general and has made significant contributions to the state of Florida, particularly in cracking down against pill mills."
Farmer has also served as surgeon general during a time when the House has sought a major reorganization of the agency --- and as some top department officials have departed. The House passed a bill last week that is designed to more narrowly focus the department, though the Senate has not approved the measure.
House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican who has led the reorganization efforts, praised Farmer and said the surgeon general had been "very engaged'' about the potential changes at the agency.
"I have been very impressed with him,'' Hudson said. "He has been what I consider a very strong force at the Department of Health.''
Peggy Farmer, 64, has been active in politics in Volusia County and worked on Sen. John McCain's campaign for president.