A family tragedy, and a kindness, changed the course of Pat Dooley’s life.
In 1967, Dooley’s sister Kathy was driving to Nelson with two friends when they had an accident that killed one passenger.
Dooley, then 16 and the oldest of seven children in the Leathwood family, received a call about the accident while she was home in Kaslo looking after siblings. Her parents were gone and Dooley, still a child herself, didn’t know what to do.
But word spread quickly in Kaslo, and not long after a couple who lived nearby knocked on the Leathwood’s door.
“The family just wrapped their arms around us, and we got food from families that we knew had no money,” says Dooley. “Kaslo just took care of the Leathwood family for days and days and days. That was just kind of a catalyst for defining the kind of community I wanted to be part of.”
Kathy sustained a brain injury in the accident and would go on to die several years later. But Dooley never forgot how strangers rallied around her family in its time of need, the memory of which has fuelled decades of her own volunteerism.
“It was just a value in our family. Mom and Dad said, in life, take care of your family and take care of your community and do things to make your community a better place.”
It’s for her outstanding contributions to the city that the Nelson Star has named Dooley its 2021 Citizen of the Year, which since 1964 has annually recognized residents who have given back to our community in ways big and small.
Dooley does both tirelessly. Since the 1980s, Dooley worked for an extensive variety of organizations including Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation, Interior Health, Selkirk College and many more.
She’s a staple at community events such as Coldest Night of the Year, has worked behind the scenes for non-profits such as Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy, and since her retirement in 2010 as superintendent of School District 8 has also worked on regional and provincial initiatives in health care and education.
Her current duties include the board of the Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice (Dooley was among the first community members elected to the board that is otherwise comprised of doctors) and volunteering for the Rotary Club of Nelson (she’s currently planning the upcoming Easter Egg hunt at Lakeside Park).
“I just feel passionate that if you want our community to be a better place, step up and do something.”
Dooley’s signature contribution to Nelson, however, is one that has been a lifeline to families for the last two decades.
In the late 1990s, one of the boys who played hockey with Dooley’s son Sean was diagnosed with leukemia. A small group of people including Dooley supported the boy’s family and one other child with financial help.
That led to the creation of the Nelson and Area Friends of the Family, which raises money for families who have to pay for emergency travel costs when a child is sick or injured and needs to leave the Kootenays for treatment.
Since it began in March 2000, Dooley says the organization has assisted up to 25 children annually thanks to exhaustive fundraising efforts (pictures of the group holding cheques with local businesses are regularly published in the Star).
“We seem to somehow have just touched huge segments of the population, and we get individual cheques from people who just like what we stand for.”
Fundraising is Dooley’s forte. Her proudest volunteering moment came as chair of the Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation, which led a community effort to raise $1.5 million for a CT scanner at the hospital.
Dooley remembers kids donating their birthday money and one resident putting up his car for the CT scanner. One day Dooley was in a taxi when the driver said his colleagues had put together a $1,000 donation for it. The scanner was purchased in 2011 and began operating the next year.
“It was just such an example to me that will always stand out, not because of my individual effort, but because it showed what a community can really do when they have a certain mission.”
Dooley has no plans of slowing down.
At the moment she’s helping Rotary plan a dinner to fundraise for local food security, polio eradication and a school in Haiti. She’s also on a provincial advisory board that’s focused on amalgamating B.C.’s four dentistry colleges.
“I’ve always had a real desire to make a difference,” she says. “And volunteerism is rewarding to me.”
It’s been rewarding for Nelson, too.
Previous citizens of the year
1964: Helen Morris, Red Cross
1965: Elwyn Owens, community service
1966: Helen Catley, community service, Mt. St. Francis
1967: William Young, Shriners, children with special needs
1968: Mabel Cartwight, community service
1969: Margaret Barwis, community service
1970: Cornelius Van Pelt, community service
1971: Joan Lefeaux, community service, especially children
1972: David Fairbank, community service, Jubilee Manor
1974: Ben Sutherland, Shriners, children with special needs
1976: Frank Hufty, community service
1977: Everett Kuhn, community service, square dancing
1978: Gordon Hoover, Kiwanis Club, Boy Scouts, junior sports
1979: Laura Maglio, community service, Guides, Brownies
1980: June Dolman, musical arts, fashion classes
1981: Mas Fujibayashi, youth sports
1982: Corrine Massey, community service
1983: Inez Eckmire, community service, veterans
1984: Walter Waite, founder mid-summer curling bonspiel
1985: Lloyd Miskiman, snowfest co-ordinator
1986: Bob Allen, Shriners, search and rescue
1987: Rocco Mastrobuono, hospital equipment
1988: Betty Drew, library, hospital, music festival
1989: Debbie Kozak, special needs children
1990: Margaret Murphy, community service
1991: Doug McDonald, music to shut-ins
1992: Les Clarkson, community service
1993: Shawn Lamb, museum, arts council
1994: Fran Horan, community service
1995: Bert Daynard, community service
1996: Bob Nuyens, community service
1997: Jim and Nancy Dow, special Olympics
1998: Amelia Fukala, Legion, Guides, Eagles, curling
1999: Margaret Stacey, community service, music, arts
2000: Marguerite Santor, community service, junior hockey
2001: Frances Welwood, community service
2002: Alan R. Ramsden, community service Museum Arts Boy Scouts
2003: Bruce Morrison, community service Osprey Foundation
2004: Al Craft, community service, water rescue
2005: Debra Zeeben, community service, Hospital Foundation
2006: Dr. Ken Muth, community service, health
2007: Douglas Stoddart, community service
2008: Dr. John Mackay, community service, health
2009: Mathilde Klassen, community service, music and arts
2010: Bill McDonnell, community service, sports
2011: Bruce Halstead, community service
2012: Lois Arnesen, community service, welcome wagon
2013: Peter Defeo, community service, fire department
2014: Barry Nelson, community service, car co-op, social justice
2015: Susanne Raschdorf, community service
2016: Helen Jamieson, community service, conservation and animal care
2017: Kim Charlesworth, community service
2018: David Hogg, community service, pipe band
2019: No award given due to pandemic
2020: Keith Bridger and Rob Wright, Nelson Tennis Club