Editorial: Jonathan Doherty loved his community
Friendly and tenacious. One of Orleans County’s most active volunteers. An integral part of the Albion landscape, often seen walking along Main Street holding a cup of coffee. That was Jonathan Doherty – who, at age 38, passed away during his sleep last Thursday.
A strong force for good in the community, Jonathan was involved in numerous organizations – the Boy Scouts, Orleans County Historical Association, the Albion Lions Club, Albion Alumni Association, the Self-Advocate All Stars, Albion Strawberry Festival Committee, the Albion Sumer Music Festival (Rock the Park) – and more.
He wasn’t shy about selling tickets, flowers, popcorn and other items to benefit these groups. The man could be pushy, and I say that in a good way. I may have received more text messages from him than any other Orleans Hub reader. He wanted his groups to be featured and wondered why there was a delay at times in getting the articles out.
The Hub posted an article about Jonathan on July 2, 2016, after he received the Volunteer of the Year in the western region of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State.
“I’m never home,” Doherty said then about his busy schedule. “I like to get out in the community and support the community because I live here. It’s fun to help the different groups.”
He could be bold about big issues, too. He spoke at County Legislature meetings in 2010, asking the county lawmakers to support a ban on the “R-word,” a slur that some people use to describe people with disabilities.
The County Legislature followed his prodding and made an official declaration, telling local, state and federal governments to no longer use the word “retarded” in describing people with developmental disabilities. The R-word is a “vicious slang” that is insulting and hurtful to people with developmental disabilities and their families, legislators said in their resolution.
Don Colquhoun was the executive director of The Arc of Orleans back then. He has been retired for 10 years now. Jonathan was well regarded as a leader locally, regionally and statewide for his advocacy for people with disabilities.
“He was a quiet leader who had a lot of good things to say,” Colquhoun said. “He was fearless. He deserves a real place in the hall of fame.”
The success of the Self Advocate All Stars in getting the resolution against the R-word was noticed state-wide.
“It encouraged other ARCs to make some noise,” Colquhoun said.
Jonathan was the spokesman for the Self Advocate All Stars in that push against the R-word. He kept the All-Stars together in the 12 years since, meeting often for coffee at Tim Hortons in Albion, hosting car washes and fundraisers so they could attend conferences, and stepping up for community service projects. The All Stars were out on April 22 for the Day of Caring in Orleans County. Jonathan and his friends painted a shed for Community Action.
After fighting use of the “R-word,” the All-Stars set about other missions: increased public transportation and job opportunities for people with disabilities. They also wanted funding restored for a recreation program at the former Arc of Orleans County, a program where people with disabilities could go to the movies, bowling and sporting events. (Jonathan worked on an Arc cleaning crew for the past 15 years and also was a substitute cleaner at Albion Central School.)
Jonathan wasn’t just busy. He was a great friend to many. He made sure people felt connected. Over the years, he was often the first one to send me a text on my birthday.
Randy Bower, the retired Orleans County sheriff, would meet Jonathan and the All Stars for coffee often at Tim Hortons – though Jonathan never lingered too long because he had a schedule to keep.
Today was supposed to be a coffee day with Jonathan for Bower at 10:30 in the morning.
“Jonathan was about community,” Bower said. “He was the kindest man I ever met. He was always there for us. Anytime somebody needed a hand, he was the first one to reach out.”
Bower received many texts and Facebook messages from Jonathan in recent years. Sometimes Jonathan was selling tickets to the ham loaf dinner for Christ Episcopal Church or some other organization. But often he sent messages to Bower just to check in.
“He really helped me to grow as a person,” Bower said. “He really thought the world of the community and the people that were part of it.”
Jonathan may have had the most fun of anyone living in Albion. Besides his work and volunteerism, he took dance classes at Gotta Dance by Miss Amy and performed in the recital on April 30 before a packed middle school auditorium. He also sang country songs during the Rock the Park festival in Albion, taking the stage to a delirious crowd while he sang, “Achy Breaky Heart” and other tunes.
Zack Burgess, one of the organizers of the festival, wanted Jonathan to get a song on stage in appreciation for all the help he did with the event. Jonathan hand-delivered letters, asking for support from local businesses, and helped clean up after the concerts.
Jonathan was a little shy his first time singing on stage, but his confidence grew, Burgess said. Jonathan performed three times on the big stage at Rock the Park. After his song, he then introduced Burgess’s band, Zero.
“He put in a ton of effort, not only for our event but other aspects of the community,” Burgess said. “He was one of the most big-hearted people I knew. He was very active and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Bower said he remains in shock about the loss of a friend who was so involved.
“You don’t see it coming from a person so full of life,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for the community, it really is. He wouldn’t want us to be down. He shined bright. He really did. He was such a friend to everyone.”