James D. "Jim" Doherty, who died last Wednesday, Nov. 25, will be remembered by his family as the faithful husband and father who never missed an occasion while his children were growing up. Clients will remember his as the steady businessman who founded the still strong Doherty Insurance Agency with his brother, Bill, in 1937. He was active in St. Augustine Parish, served in the U.S. Army, played football at Boston College, and earned stockpiles of awards from local organizations. He was instrumental in the growth of Merrimack College, from its beginnings in 1947. But for most Andoverites, the varied and productive Jim Doherty will be remembered as an Andover institution with a deep knowledge of town history and politics who led Town Meeting with a deft mix of democratic reverence and personal wit.
"He was bigger than life individual," his daughter, Sheila, who now serves as Town Meeting moderator, told reporter Bethany Bray. "It was fun to watch him, growing up, being so involved in this town ... He was deeply interested in all of it (civic duties, town politics, church life), but first and foremost a husband and father to all of us. He was just amazing."
Doherty was proud to say that he believed Andover was the largest town in the world with a direct-democracy Town Meeting. It was his leadership ability that helped keep Andover from ever switching to something else. Andover residents overwhelmingly voted to support Doherty for Town Meeting moderator each year, and he led the forum from 1977 to 2006. Often he faced no challenger, but when he did he usually received around 80 percent of the vote. Doherty titled the book he wrote "Andover: As I Remember It," and it literally was as he remembered it, as he noted in the preface that he did not research its accuracy. But generations of new leaders sought out Doherty for his legendary memory and advice before running for office. Those in office listened carefully to him before proceeding with a plan. He was a mentor to many.
Jim Doherty often spoke in reverent tones about his brother, Bill, a former School Committee member after whom the Doherty Middle School is named. During Jim Doherty's long service to the town he earned similar respect from most everyone with whom he worked. He was referred to by most as Mr. Doherty or Mr. Moderator, not Jim. In the days before Jim Doherty's death, the selectmen named the hall on the second floor of Old Town Hall after him. That hall in the building officially known as the Town House was the first Town Meeting hall used in the new Andover, after Andover and North Andover split into two distinct communities. This is a fitting tribute to a man who exemplified Town Meeting dedication and democratic vigilance, to a man who served as the Town Meeting general for three decades.
If you put that on the Town Meeting warrant, it would pass in a hand vote, no count required. Andover buried a political icon Tuesday and he will missed for a long time.