By RUSSELL JONES
Inside of a small room in the Compass Center sits a project that is five years in the making, but may never be finished. That project is the Otter Valley Model Railroad, and it was the passion project of Art Doty and what his friends called his “pride and joy.”
The sign on the door calls Doty the division superintendent, chief designer, model maker, teacher, surveyor, draughtsman, track layer, rod man, engineer, conductor, brakeman, fireman, station master, dispatcher, section foreman, yard master, switchman, steward, special agent and cook.
As long as that list of titles is, however, it just barely scratches the surface of who Art Doty was.
Doty passed away this past Tuesday, July 2, at Helen Porter nursing home in Middlebury after a battle with cancer that hit him hard just a week ago, sending him from his home to hospice care. Doty had thought he had beaten the illness months ago and was in remission. He felt good enough that he volunteered to be the town’s representative to the BLSG and was appointed to the position just two weeks ago. A flare-up sent him back to the hospital last week and his close friends were notified to come and visit Doty a final time.
Doty was a multi-faceted man who not only served in many capacities, but also could see what was wrong about many aspects of life and work to fix them.
“The story of Art, was his heart,” said Lance Mead, who worked closely with Doty for Brandon’s BRAVO, a restorative justice program. “He had a good moral compass. I like to think of him as one of God’s workers on Earth.”
The mission of BRAVO is to offer Brandon community members, who have become involved with the Brandon police, an alternative to the criminal justice system. This alternative is called restorative justice, which is a process in which offenders, victims and community members meet to find ways to repair the harm done. While the criminal justice system focuses on punishment, restorative justice focuses on healing and fixing what can be fixed.
Mead was the founder of the program in Pittsford, working closely with Doty as the program moved to Brandon. He credits Doty with rejuvenating the program in the past few years.
Mead said the program mostly deals with incidents from high school age students and Doty, he said, had a knack for helping troubled youth build badly needed self-confidence and see a way forward.
“Some of those kids just need a little hope. H-O-P-E,” Mead spelled to highlight his point. “Art could infuse that directly into people.”
In addition to his work with BRAVO, Doty volunteered his time at Otter Valley’s North Campus.
“He was very dedicated to the kids,” Michael Sassin, teacher at the North Campus, wrote recently about working with Doty this past year. “Throughout the school year, even as he received treatment for cancer, he came to work with two students on an airplane project they had begun the previous year.”
Sassin added that Doty often shared with him how much he loved the kids and wanted them to know that people cared about them and wanted them to be successful in life.
Towards the end of the school year, Sassin was able to spend time with Doty, Tom (who helped Doty with the airplane project), and a student, as the airplane project culminated in flying a remote-controlled model airplane that they had designed and built.
“As the airplane took off and the student was able to control it while in the air and land it safely back on the ground, I witnessed the pure joy on Mr. Doty’s face as he recognized the power of the moment for the student who had accomplished a goal and was clearly proud of that accomplishment,” wrote Sassin. “Mr. Doty was so happy that he had been able to be a part of this student’s life and help the student gain a sense of pride in his hard work and accomplishment.”
Indeed, it seems every person to ever have met Doty was touched by his commitment to helping others as well as his remarkable intelligence.
“Art Doty was a wonderful man, larger than life, who made a difference in the lives of people wherever he was,” said OV principal Jim Avery. “I will always cherish the times we spent talking about students, new projects, ideas, and the importance of powerful relationships for all of our kids at school.”
As many area residents said, the center of Art Doty’s life was helping others.
Every Sunday, Doty would drive to Rutland and pick up bread at Panera and distribute it to the schools the next day and to anyone who needed it in the apartments on the old Brandon Training School campus. He was the point person for distributing food for the food shelf at Cedar Knoll (the building in which he and his wife lived). He also served as the executive director of the Open Door Mission in Rutland, and was a volunteer for the Boys and Girls Club in Rutland.
Brandon Selectboard chairman Seth Hopkins recalled Doty as a man of many interests and gifts.
“He taught youngsters how to sail; he shared his love of model railroads with all and sundry; he was a talented musician; and he was prone to stopping his car mid-street if he saw you walking on the sidewalk and thought it was a good time for a friendly conversation,” Hopkins wrote in a brief recollection, adding that on one occasion he said to Art “you’ve got a line of cars stopped behind you… (and) “he would say, ‘They’re just going to work. What we’re talking about here is important.’”
“But along with the fun,” Hopkins said, “ he made valuable contributions to all the people of his community. He served as town moderator in two different towns, an uncommon feat for an office of such respect. He was instrumental in implementing more humane treatment of vulnerable Vermonters in the care of state institutions and was a long-term advocate for public health and quality of life through his many years of service on the insect control district board.
“Art Doty was one-of-a-kind, and Brandon won’t be the same without him,” Hopkins said. “We’re all blessed to have had a chance to know him.”
As far as public health goes, long-time friend Bill Mathis said Doty deserves the credit for establishing the mosquito control district.
“People do not remember the national news coverage of the mosquito plague nor the three deaths (caused by mosquito bites) that occurred in this area,” he said. “Art was the fellow who got the funding and lobbied Montpelier for what I call the ‘Brandon International Airport.’ If you head west on 73 you will see the heliport, wind-sock and orange warning globes on the high wires.”
Mathis also recalled “when conversation would lag at the senior center lunch table, he would say something about the spraying opponents which would send Doty into a Vesuvian eruption.”
“Art would regale us with his sometimes irascible views on politics and civic life,” Mathis continued. “Whether we agreed or not, it never got in the way of a good conversation.”
Mathis added that Art met his wife, Donna, in 1958 and the two were mainstays at the senior center in Brandon. When the couple was not there, they could often be found at the Compass Center.
In a room in the Compass Center, Doty spent much of his free time in recent years building a model railroad that mimics the Rutland Railroad on a 1/160 scale. Doty built realistic scale models of area buildings and laid the tracks to run through the different towns. The track takes up the entire space of the room (about 15 feet) with only a small workbench sitting in the center of the operation.
“It is truly amazing,” said Mathis. “People will immediately recognize perfect scale models of buildings in Rutland, Middlebury and Brandon. Many of which are long gone.”
Doty built all the buildings by hand, going out in the community and sketching before coming back to the Compass Center and recreating each one. Now, the center’s owner Edna Sutton said they are not sure what will happen to the model.
“We are looking for someone who has a passion for trains who might be interested in taking over the project,” she said. “It really was a labor of love for him and when it came to historical knowledge of the subject, he was second to none.”
Mathis, a close friend of Doty’s, noted that “two long blasts on the locomotive whistle means the train is ‘going forward.’”
“Art, thank you for your mighty whistle blasts and being our model for going forward,” Mathis said. “You inspired us all with your contributions and set the standard to make a better community, state, nation and world.”