The Dougherty kids stories, were each amazing in their own right as they came from poor farmers growing up during the Depression, two world wars and the Dust Bowl days of Oklahoma. Each of the 11 kids went on to become educated and prominent in their respective paths in life. Quite a feat coming from such humble beginnings. Perhaps this is part of what captured me and held me in awe each time Mom told and retold her stories of the past.
As I grew up.....Hinton, OK and the family farm was the place where we all called home whether we grew up there or not..... and this was the place that once or twice a year I got to be in the midst of these aunts and uncles who the rest of the year only lived in my imagination. Each of my mom's siblings obviously knew who I was and would always greet me with a hug and kiss but each also had their own broods to contend with and it was expected that the kids would play outside while the adults visited. These visits were not about us kids, but about them and their time with each other. Us kids just reaped the benefits as those of us from towns and cities got to experience farm life with some of our more farm savvy cousins while our parents attention was otherwise occupied.
One of my mom's siblings was my Uncle Ray. He was the oldest of the Dougherty boys....being about 16 years older than my mother and the one my mother and all rest seemed to hold in the highest regard. Uncle Ray was named after my grandfather and after graduating from Hinton High School he went on to serve in the military and then go to medical school. Somewhere along the line he met a beauty named Eileen and the two married and began raising a family. After spending some years living in North Carolina, eventually they moved back to Oklahoma and resided in the city. Uncle Ray was one of the top Pulmonoligists in the country. While us kids called him Uncle Ray....his siblings always referred to him as Dr. Ray.
Growing up, his MD didn't really carry a lot of weight with us kids. To us he was just one of 10 other Doughterys who we called aunt or uncle. However Uncle Rays family held some special mental ties for me. For one thing....growing up I was always told I looked nothing like my family. It gave me sort of a complex as I could see resemblances to family in all my cousins but not in my self. It was not until I met two of Uncle Rays kids...Margaret and Michael that I finally felt a part of things. If I was told once that first reunion that we were all together, I was told a hundred times that I could easily pass for their little sister I looked so much like them. Happy sigh.....I finally looked like someone in my family.
My next real memory of Uncle Ray was when my grandfather was ill and staying at St. Anthony's Hospital in OKC. It was pretty touch and go at the time and Mom dropped everything, pulled us out of school and we went and stayed in the city so that Mom could go to the hospital everyday. It was at this time that I got to visit Uncle Ray and Aunt Eileen at their home and found out what an amazing artist Aunt Eileen was. I was mesmerized by her in-home art studio and all the pieces of art she was working on. This was also the first time that I saw how much Ray loved Eileen. Even as a kid I could see it in his eyes every time they were in the same room together. Although I might not have known what I was seeing then.....I did know I was seeing something very special. I was also privileged to see this love between them later in life at a much more poignant time. I will never forget that love! It was this time in the city that I got better acquainted with my Oklahoma aunts and uncles and that they ceased being just family acquaintances and started being real family members to me. I was starting to see the real strength of the sibling bond that was there for my mom and all of them. It was a defining moment in my life learning about these people I called family.
As time went on and I grew up.....I developed adult relationships with some of my aunts and uncles but some still stayed elusive to me (time and distance will do that to you). Also....some of moms siblings were beginning to leave this earth. Funny that out of eleven kids.....five died way too young....all in their 60's I believe, but the others lived well into their 80's and beyond. Four are still alive today. It was at this point in my life (my adult years) that I began to learn more about my Uncle Ray.
As I said earlier, his siblings always called him Dr. Ray and as they grew older and would be faced with health issues, there were times they would call him to get his opinion on whatever was plaguing them. During the time he had his own practice he would always say to them, "That is a question you might ask your own doctor." It was not that he was putting anyone off or that he didn't want to help them, it was simply that he was not their doctor and he was not treating them and therefore he didn't want them going to their own doctor saying "Well my brother the doctor said....." He felt interjecting his opinion might ultimately affect their care. Instead he would encourage them to see their doctor if the issue was severe or if they didn't have a doctor or specialist.....he would encourage them to get one. I always thought this was such a classy way to handle what you know must have been very hard for him. Especially when he had to watch five of his brothers and sisters die before him.
It was this classiness that started to give me an adult perspective of this man. Both my perspective and respect grew as he took care of his beloved wife Eileen until the very end of her life, while still running his medical practice. After Eileens death.....Uncle Ray eventually retired and after a time moved back to NC where some of his kids were. I am told he loved both his new home and his retirement and with his new found free time he began to write. It was at this time I truly was given a chance to know this revered uncle as the man he was.
Uncle Rays stories were always amazing. He was a phenomenal writer who told stories of growing up in a devout Catholic family with hardworking parents, lean times and a houseful of brothers and sisters. His stories were his own as they showed the world his point of view as the eldest boy of the Doughtery clan. He also wrote of his great love for Eileen and his fear of her almost dying in childbirth and his gratefulness to God when she survived. Every word of these stories stripped back this man and his life of accomplishments and laid bare a heart that still after all these years beat only for his one true love....Eileen. It was these stories that showed me who this man really was and more than once left me in tears.
My Uncle Pat....the youngest of the Dougherty brothers was always the recipient of Uncle Ray's stories and he then would pass them along to the rest of the family. The stories were amazing and in fact I read one about the young boy Ray (not divulging the writer of course) to one of the creative writing classes I taught. The story.... one of both humor and sadness left the entire class in tears. Yes....he was just that good.
Yesterday I got the call that Uncle Ray had died. He was 90 years old and although he had been in relatively good health and had stayed very active all these years..... a bought of pneumonia (at least they think that is what it was) took him. There was no long drawn out dying, just a few days in the hospital.......and then he was gone. True to the man that he was.....when the doctors told him yesterday morning that they could do nothing else for him.....he thanked them and let them know he was ready to go. He was ready to meet up with his beloved Eileen. By early afternoon they were once again together.
Dr. Raymond Joseph Dougherty Jr. if you asked him of his life I am sure would not particularly call it remarkable, but for those who knew him and those of us who were lucky enough to be related to him.....he was amazing. He grew up a poor farm boy who became both the protagonist and the hero of many of his baby sisters stories. He served his country proudly and he went to medical school and became an outstanding lung specialist. Along the way though he willing served the poorest areas regardless of who they were, where they came from or if they could pay. He took both his Hippocratic Oath and his Catholic faith to heart. He loved a woman with a love that we all should be so lucky to have and he raised amazing kids....each wildly successful in their own right. He suffered great loss in his life and he found great peace at the end of his life with his writing. He was an amazing son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and yes.....uncle, so I think that it was only fitting that his death the final chapter of his life, was as poignant and beautiful as any story he ever wrote.
So Uncle Ray, please give Mom a kiss for me and hug Aunt Eileen. You like the rest, will be sorely missed.
Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and may Your perpetual light shine upon him.
RIP Uncle Ray.