Anne Sheehan Doughty, 55, occupational therapist, Ridgefield native
Anne Marie (Sheehan) Doughty, an occupational therapist whose open heart and unconventional spirit brought life and laughter into the days of aged patients with dementia, died March 12, 2013, surrounded by family at Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island in Providence. She was 55, had lived for 16 years in Exeter, Rhode Island, and grew up Ridgefield, Connecticut.
“She had a great talent for calming patients who were agitated and struggling with their cognitive decline. It’s a talent. You can’t teach someone that,” said Mary Marran, a friend and colleague from Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. “She tapped into the familiar to help people feel better and exist beyond what are pretty devastating conditions - advanced Alzheimer’s, other dementias.”
To her family and friends Anne was not only loving and loyal but an organizer and instigator, a wellspring of mischief and laughter who could turn a shopping trip into a wacky adventure and make cooking a big dinner a memory not to be forgotten.
Services will be in Providence, R.I. at times to be announced.
Born Nov. 4, 1957, the fifth of Patricia and the late Dr. James Sheehan’s 11 children, she grew up on Main Street, Ridgefield, in a loving and boisterous family and became part of an adventurous gang of neighborhood children. She went to St. Mary’s School, Notre Dame Academy and Ridgefield High School, which she graduated from in 1975.
She worked a variety of jobs, including as a dark room technician for The Ridgefield Press, and found her first career as chef , cooking old world French cuisine at Rene Chardin in Lewisboro, N.Y. and learning desserts at Wood’s Restaurant in Manhattan. Her culinary career took her to Cooperstown, N.Y. where she began studying occupational therapy at the State University of New York in Buffalo. She graduated in 1995 with a bachelors of science in occupational therapy.
Her first job in the second career that became her life’s calling was at Glens Falls Hospital in Glens Falls, N.Y., where she was staff occupational therapist. In 1996 she moved to Rhode Island to take a position at Kent Home Care in Warwick, R.I.
“There’s nobody better. She can connect with anybody. That’s what I really learned from her. She just knew how to connect with everybody, all ages, all diagnoses, staff members,” said Karyn Parks, an occupational therapist who worked with her first at Glens Falls and then at Kent Home Care in Rhode Island.
She recalled joining Ms. Doughty one day on her on rounds of home visits to the elderly and troubled clients.
“She had all the psychiatric patients. I’ve never seen anything like the way she connected with those folks, from dementia to depression to obsessive compulsive disorder,” Ms. Parks said.
“She’d connect with these people, and get them to do the littlest thing, that nobody else would even think of, and get them totally turned around.
“She was so creative. That was her connection with people — her sense of humor and her creativity were off the charts,” Ms. Parks said.
“That one day I went to see her work with her psychiatric patients, I learned more that day than any day of my career.”
She did home care for Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, R.I. from 2000 to 2002, then joined Butler Hospital in Providence, where she worked from 2002 to 2012 becoming senior occupational therapist. She took a medical leave after her diagnosis last summer with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
At Butler she worked in the geriatric psychiatry unit and became a loved and depended upon member of the staff, bringing always her gifts for knowing patients as people and seeing both their symptoms and human needs, and reacting with warmth and good humor to the inevitable curve balls thrown her way.
“That’s probably the hardest unit in our hospital to work on, and Anne loved it,” said Ms. Marran, her colleague from Butler.
“Anne was someone who focused on really understanding not only who the patients were but what from their lives, their history, was most meaningful, most significant. From there she would try to recreate experiences that had meaning to the patients,” Ms. Marran said. “She loved finding that way in to know who they are, who they were, and draw that out.
“The best example was her annual Thanksgiving dinner. Her patients, based really on their ability, she would have them participate in the preparation. It could be from wiping a table, drying a dish, to helping make a recipe and prepare a dish. She would adapt the activity so that everybody participated to their own ability, and they would all share the dinner.”
It could be difficult to manage, but making Thanksgiving dinner - the sounds, the smells, the simple familiar tasks - was far more valuable to patients than simply being served one. She would have elderly women folding towels, give old men things to fix, a former accountant a desk to work at.
“That participation in the familiar and the known was hugely therapeutic and calming. No one did that as well as Anne,” Ms. Marran said. “She taught us all a lot about what it means to be therapists and caregivers.”
She was Butler Hospital’s employee of the year in 2008.
Anne Sheehan married Paul Doughty of Exeter, July 4, 1999 - a date they agreed upon so their anniversary would be celebrated with fireworks, they’d always have the day off, and it would be to easy for Paul to remember.
She, Paul and their dog, Henry, lived on Austin Farm Road in Exeter the last 14 years. She loved riding and they kept a horse, Steve, at their home. For several years she also had a mule, Haley, who she rode. More recently she kept her beloved horse, Figment, at Cross Winds Farm in Cumberland, R.I., and had begun taking lessons to learn Royal Spanish Dressage at Sons of the Wind Equestrian Center in Merrimac, Mass.
Anne and Paul enjoyed camping, particularly at Cobscook Bay State Park in Maine, near the wooded property they bought in Whiting, Maine. As a former chef she made a personal challenge of gourmet cooking over a campfire, collecting equipment and producing extraordinary creations, such as a “berry cobbler” dessert made from scratch with a variety of wild berries picked in the woods that day.
Growing up in Ridgefield she was artistic and adventurous, painting, making pottery, taking photographs, playing softball. She served on the town’s Democratic Town Committee at age 18, its youngest member ever. She went to Ireland on vacation and ended up living there more than a year.
She did more than keep in touch with her large and scattered family. Phone calls to sisters lasted hours. She took each of her nearly 20-odd nieces and nephews to her heart - a playmate when they were young, a willing baby-sitter when they became parents - and was just about everyone’s favorite aunt.
In the half year since her diagnosis with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or “ALS,” also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, she showed extraordinary strength, continually lifting up the spirits of family members with her ever-ready smile and humor, her resilience and her insistence that, even in the face of her grim diagnosis, there was fun to be had.
Before her niece Liz Clark’s wedding in October the disease was becoming apparent in her stiff-legged gait. “That’s my stork walk,” she said with a chuckle. But she danced at the wedding.
When many family members came to help her move her bed from upstairs to downstairs, and she sat on the bed surrounded by sisters and nieces and brothers-in-law, laughing and telling stories. “I hope everyone with ALS has this much fun,” she said.
Her spirit made caring for her a bittersweet joy for her family.
“When she was diagnosed and we started sharing weekends, taking care of her,” said her sister, Betsy Reid. “I’m not a nurse, and she taught me how to take care of her. She would just look you in the eye and say ‘Listen, this is how you do it, and I know you can do it.’ You liked taking care of her. She was always happy to see you. She was still a lot of fun.”
The combination of courage and humor with which she faced the debilitating, incurable fatal disease was exemplified by the motto she adopted and shared with the sisters who were at her home so often throughout her final months: “Man up, bitch.”
She is mourned by her husband, Paul Doughty of Exeter, R.I., her mother, Patricia Sheehan of Ridgefield, Ct., and her seven sisters and three bothers: Mary Clark of Lincoln, R.I.; Betsy Reid, Patsy Knoche, Connie Cozens and James Sheehan, all of Ridgefield, Ct.; Kathleen Lill of Nassau, N.Y.; Matthew Sheehan of Kawaihae, Hawaii; Teresa Tocantins of Gloucester, Mass., Stephen Sheehan of Cumming, Ga., and Maura Sheehan of Encinitas, Calif.
Her loss is also felt by her brothers- and sisters-in-law: Richard Doughty of East Providence, R.I.; Macklin Reid, Joseph Knoche and John Cozens of Ridgefield, Ct., Michael Tocantins of Gloucester, Mass., Barry Lill of Nassau, N.Y., Cindy Sheehan of Cumming, Ga., Junco Sheehan of Kawauhae, Hawaii, Teru Kanazawa of Tujunja, Calif.; and by her nieces and nephews: James and Matthew Clark of Lincoln, R.I. and their sisters Nora McAteer of Odenton, Md. and Liz Gerstl of Raleigh, N.C.; Emma Cobb of Fletcher, Vt; Grady Reid of Ridgefield, Ct.; Jacob Knoche and Karl Knoche, both of Ridgefield, Ct.; Johanna Knoche of Issaquah, Wash. and Loretta Knoche of Phoenix, Ariz.; Patrick, Duncan, Timothy, Christopher and Annie Cozens of Ridgefield, Ct.; Mikio and Terence Sheehan of Tujunja, Calif.; Murphy and Jack Lill of Nassau, N.Y.; Bella and Hanna Tocantins of Gloucester, Mass.; Grace, Sarah, James and Jessica Sheehan of Cumming, Ga. She was the sister-in-law of the late James Clark of Lincoln, R.I.
Anne Doughty is also fondly remembered by many aunts and uncles, friends and co-workers.
Her funeral service will be held Saturday, March 16 at 10 A.M. at Bellows Funeral Chapel, 160 River Road, Lincoln, RI. Burial will be in Forest Chapel Cemetery, Barrington, RI. Relatives and friends may call at Bellows Funeral Chapel, Friday 4-8 p.m.
Contributions in her memory may be made to: The ALS Association, Rhode Island Chapter, 2915 Post Road, Warwick, RI, 02886-3117 or the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island, 245, Waterman Street, Suit 306, Providence, RI 02906.
Anne’s family would like to thank Dr. James Berry, M.D. and Darlene Sawicki, N.P. of the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS Clinic, the staff at St. Elizabeth’s Rehabilitation Center in East Greenwich, R.I., and at Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island’s Philip Hulitar Inpatient Center in Providence, and all Anne’s friends and co-workers at the Butler Hospital for their support through this journey.