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A Goodbye to a Great Neighbor

Fair Haven's Kathy Dougherty, who died last week, is fondly remembered by many as the fabric of the borough.

"Go get 'em Elaine!" I heard as I darted down the street after my miscreant child defiantly barrelled away on his big boy bike.

It was a very familiar voice I heard. So was the smile I saw out of the corner of my eye and laughter bellowing as I toted my 5-year-old over my shoulder and back home, bike dragged by my other hand, him screaming like he was being held in a mean mommy torture pit.

Suddenly there was silence and a happy-go-lucky "Hi Kaffee!" from the upside down little clown dangling over my right side.

Then the laugh started in again, followed by a half-stern "And just where did you think you were going, mister?" Grinning back at the lady on the porch, I nodded, skaking my head in agreement with her. Not even thinking for one second that the scolding was intrusive.

It wasn't. It was how we all just did things on the street where I live. We were neighbors. We shared. We cared. We knew each others' business and minded our own business just enough. And it was all good. The voice, the laugh and the smile — they all belonged to Kathy Dougherty. 

As usual, Kathy was just where she belonged that day and many years before and after — perched on her cozy front porch, taking in the neighborhood, children from her homespun daycare business on her lap and at her feet, making everyone feel like they, too, belonged.

Without question, Kathy always offered to lend a hand, and, yes, kept the little ones on the block and in her home in line, loving and guiding them all as if they were her own.

She embodied the concept of a good neighbor. She, without expectation of fanfare, fancy parties and big checks, just did what most dream of neighbors doing. It's what zealous realtors write about in sales brochures and pin a pricetag to, but it just can't be manufactured.

Kathy was a real neighbor. She was part of our everyday lives. She checked in when she thought you needed checking, she socialized, she enjoyed life with those she loved. She cared — deeply.

And her neighbors, family and daycare kids cared right back.

When passing by the house, there was always a beep, a wave and a warm smile back at ya. On a nice day, hearing the sound of her voice chatting with a neighbor, playing with her "kids" or shouting a hello down the street was like having a hot cocoa on a cold day. It was pure comfort.

Kathy's untimely death the day after Christmas brought back the chill that her special brew of neighbor had taken away decades before when she moved here.

"She really was the fabric of Fair Haven," daughter Colleen said to me a few days after her mom died. And she was.

Kathy was cut from some very durable, soft cloth. And the thread of kindness she wove throughout the community unspooled a little the day she died. The porch is dark. There's no longer a wave or wink. The smile and "stop by and see me sometime" has been replaced with somber silence.

She's gone. Her house seems to weep in a shroud of darkness. Yet, holding onto warm, bright memories of Kathy keeps the lights on and her legacy thriving.

Kathy moved onto our street when I was just hitting my teens. I distinctly remember her and her husband, Bob, introducing themselves to my parents, full of high spirits and warmth to spare.

It wasn't long after that I became the Dougherty babysitter for Bryan, Colleen and Andy. It was a job I loved. They always tipped on top of that very generous $1 an hour at the time. And, more importantly, they had the best snacks on the block. It just must be said.

They used to order from the Charles Chips delivery guy, who brought big, tin cans full of chips, pretzels and chocolate chip cookies. And, Kathy and Bob being so, well, Kathy and Bob, always made you feel like you could eat the whole tin and it would be fine.They'd just get you more. Anything you needed.

I vividly remember sitting in their cozy home, munching and studying French. It always seemed to be on a night I had a French test or homework that I babysat for them. And, either it was the their magic or those chips that I was convinced gave me the impetus to ace that class. Eh, maybe a bit of both.

There were many Dougherty neighborhood gatherings over the years, and many milestones celebrated with Kathy and Bob at the helm, stuffing flyers in people's mailboxes and calling for pot luck dishes and drives to help neighbors.

We all grew up with a healthy dose of Kathy and Bob-inspired comraderie. And, yes, the kids on the block, including the Dougherty's children, grew up.

There were weddings, baby showers and christenings and Kathy always made sure milestones were feted with a neighborhood touch. She threw me a neighborhood baby shower when I was expecting my boy. And she made a quilt for him, one hand stitch at a time.

Time just seemed to pass with a wink and a nod from Kathy's bright blue eyes. Before long, she was checking in on my mom when she was diagnosed with cancer, bringing over cozy new PJs and a heated blanket to take out the chill my mom said she couldn't shake.

Her eyes filled with worry and fear as she stood in my living room, knowing that neighbor and friend's end would soon be met. More consumed with the need to help, she rallied and got busy figuring out how she could lessen one little boy's pain when his grandma died.

Then she mourned another neighborhood friend's husband with her. Before long, her husband, too, died. There were so many milestones — so many lives touched. She grieved for everyone and reveled in their joy. She was so proud of her children and cherished her grandchildren. She made every minute count. 

The several generations of women on our street had a get together last year. I made sure that I got there. For once, I was even a little early. It was time to catch up and be a fraction of the neighbor Kathy was.

As I got out of the car, more than ashamed of unwittingly living much too quickly, right past Bob's death, I heard that voice. I peered around the car and there was Kathy, tan from one of her treasured beach days, smiling and offering a hug as freely as she offered to care for my son in the wake of my mom's death and send over her not-so-old couch just because she thought it would look nice in the house.

"I'm so glad you came," she said, not one word about my lapse in time and consciousness concerning her grief. I offered her a glass of wine. We toasted. I looked at her and said, "I'm sorry. I'm just so sorry" for missing a time I should have and could have been there most.

She smiled and just looked at me and asked, "How's that boy of yours? Send him by to see me, would ya?" Little more than a year later, she was gone.

"What I wouldn't give to hear you talk once more, teaching me just one more of life's lessons" is what Colleen said she heard from so many of Kathy's hundreds of daycare "kids" all grown up now and sitting by her bedside before she passed.

You have spoken, Kathy. Many hearts have heard you. We thank you for giving us a lesson to stop and live before we ride by, neighbor.

Shhhh ... What was that? Got 'em, Kathy.

Julie O'Connor Collart January 08, 2013 at 12:46 PM
What a beautifull tribute to your good friend and neighbor. She must have been a very special person. I am so very sorry for your loss.
Nature's Emporium January 08, 2013 at 01:43 PM
A lovely story about someone I would have liked to have know. To the family and you, I'm so sorry for your loss.
Mary Jo Bove January 08, 2013 at 01:45 PM
This story captures the true beauty of the person I have called friend for more then 50 years. I mourn that I will no longer have the benefit of your presence in my life. Rest in peace my "forever friend".
Deborah Crozier Mehlhorn January 08, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Wow...and tears. Debbie Crozier Mehlhorn

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