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Pete Dougherty

CHARLES TOWN — Whether out front and accountable in the public eye or volunteering quietly behind the scenes, the role didn’t matter to Pete Dougherty. 

As a Magistrate Court judge, a county sheriff, a congressional staffer or as a federal administrator serving homeless military veterans, Dougherty never relented in his desire to serve. 

He was a school board member for 25 years, a Boy Scout and a church leader, and sometimes a behind-the-scenes grill master at NAACP community picnics.

Dougherty believed in the purpose and possibility of public service. He dedicated four decades of his professional and personal life to that conviction. 

“Pete touched the lives of everyone he met,” his family wrote on social media this week. “There wasn’t a day that went by he wasn’t working with groups and community organizations to better the lives of all around him.”

After settling into retirement with his family nine months ago, Dougherty died Sunday at his Florida home. He was 68.

Two weeks before he had returned from a visit to Jefferson County, a visit that ended with a week where he organized carnival ride ticket sales at the Jefferson County Fair as a fundraiser for student scholarships.

“I think Pete tried to help everything,” offered Ralph Lorenzetti, a Kiwanis Club colleague and Democratic Party leader with Dougherty.

Larry Togans, who served on the Jefferson County Board of Education with Dougherty, remembers how Dougherty would dependably volunteer year after year as the guy who handled the grill at the NAACP’s Juneteenth Celebrations. He’d also be one of the first to donate during the group’s fundraisers for local scholarships.

“He was very sociable,” Togans said. “He just enjoyed being around people.”

And Dougherty was known as a low-key doer, not a showy talker, several of his friends agreed.  

Susan Wall, a former principal at Jefferson High School, remembers when Dougherty showed up 20 years ago for a community sprucing up of the high school’s building and campus. At the time, Dougherty had just lost a bid for re-election to the school board, but he still showed up to join in the sweaty Saturday chores around the school. He spent much of the day bent over on the hard pavement sealing sidewalk cracks.   

Later on, when Wall served as superintendent, Dougherty showed his talents as a sharp, diligent administrator who could work through bureaucracy to get things done. 

After he was later re-elected to the school board, he played an integral role in the construction of two new elementary schools and additions at four existing schools. Those projects were completed with a combination of racetrack tax receipts, development impact fees and state funding, without burdening taxpayers with extra public bond debt, Wall pointed out.  

“That was all done with local funds out of respect to the community,” she said.

Dougherty attended Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, where he earned a degree in secondary education.

After moving to Jefferson County following college, Dougherty started his career as a parole officer, when he began building lifelong friendships and loyalties in the law enforcement community. He was elected as a Magistrate Court judge. Toward the end of his career, he was twice elected sheriff. 

As sheriff, Dougherty pointed to his work in tripling sheriff department arrests as police service calls doubled, reducing escalating jail costs, and fighting illicit drugs and drunk driving. He also joined efforts to improve the foster care system and address drug addiction while serving as a board member to the county’s alternative sentencing program for those caught using drugs.

In 1983, after serving as a magistrate, he turned his career toward federal service. He became a regional representative in Martinsburg for former congressman Harley Staggers Jr., a friend of Dougherty’s from college. 

Over time, Dougherty moved up to work as a staff member for the U.S. House and Senate committees on veterans affairs. Although he never served in the military, his expertise and passion for helping veterans led him to work for the Veterans Administration.

At the agency, Dougherty helped lead a nationwide program that provides a variety of assistance that helps thousands of troubled veterans recover from homelessness. His job at the agency also brought him to serve as the national co-chair for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a nonprofit network of community-based organizations and government agencies that coordinate various housing, job training and health care programs for veterans. 

It also sometimes called him to work directly with the agency’s cabinet secretary.

Dougherty’s commitment to individual veterans inspired those around him, said Gay Koerber, a colleague of Dougherty at the agency. “He was such a compelling force that you just knew would always be there for you,” she said. “It was never, ever a question that if you called Pete, he would be there for you.”

Although never working as a classroom teacher, Dougherty obtained a teaching certification for West Virginia while serving on the school board, a step he took to better understand what good teachers must know and do, he said. He also chaired the West Virginia Commission for Professional Teaching Standards, a panel that works to enhance the professional development of teachers to improve instruction and learning.

While serving 25 years on the school board, Dougherty was a strong advocate for public education. Husband to a late Jefferson High School teacher and a lifelong Democrat, he opposed public funding of charter and private schools. He considered those educational reforms as a threat to the financial foundation of public schools.

“We need to do more to invest in the public school system,” Dougherty once said, “but we also need to make sure that we do the best we can so that the future that we have here 20 years from now, 50 years from now—people will look back and say we made wise decisions.”

Known by many in recent years simply as “Sheriff Pete,” Dougherty ran for public office as a Democrat, although the jobs of sheriff and state senator were the only times where political affiliations appeared on the ballot.

 “I’m a Democrat because I’ve grown up as a Democrat. I’ve always been a Democrat,” he explained last summer on the campaign trail to represent Jefferson County in the West Virginia Senate. “I believe in the things that I believe in. You have to run under a party and I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and I continue to stay in the Democratic Party.”

Dougherty offered those words to no avail while appearing before a predominantly Republican business group. His GOP opponent in that state Senate election received the group’s endorsement. Still, he performed well in Jefferson County, falling short of incumbent Republican Patricia Rucker by 118 votes. 

Rucker handily won the election after drawing 1,906 more votes in Berkeley County.

During that last campaign, Dougherty became the target of unusually harsh political attacks from conservative postings not associated with Rucker’s election effort. But Dougherty remained unflappable, enduring the attacks with his mild manner and gentlemanly demeanor in tact, friends said. 

“He just kind of shrugged it off,” said Gail Boober, a longtime friend and colleague through the Jefferson County Magistrate Court. “He said if they were going after him, they were leaving somebody else alone.”

Boober served as Dougherty’s magistrate clerk before she went on to serve 35 years as a magistrate herself. 

Through all of the elected jobs he held, Dougherty was considered a thoughtful and considerate boss, one where his colleagues became loyal and lasting friends. As sheriff, he was known to schedule Christmas patrol duties so that deputies with young children could have the holiday off with their families. 

Boober said Dougherty was always more of a mentor and a friend than a boss. She and her husband Ed Boober, who passed away last month, became close friends with Dougherty and his family. 

“He was a true gentleman, always,” she said.

Quick with a disarming quip, Dougherty was a bit of a history buff, once calling himself a Benjamin Franklin kind of guy. 

“You never knew when it was going to come out or what was going to come out or how it was going to come out,” Boober said of his dry, mild-mannered sense of humor.

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