Nancy Decker Dougherty remembered for writing

Friday, February 8, 2013 | 7:53 p.m. CST; updated 11:02 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 9, 2013

As a junior high student, Nancy Decker Dougherty had coffee and cookies with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ms. Dougherty’s father, John Decker, was a political science professor at Stephens College. In the 1950s he gave a series of lectures on foreign policy; Roosevelt was one of his guest speakers.

Like Roosevelt, Ms. Dougherty found her calling as a writer. She was a film critic and biographer, and in 1987she received the PEN Girard Award for best non-fiction work by a previously unpublished female author.

Ms. Dougherty died Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 after a 13-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 73.

Born on June 30, 1939, to John Decker and Mildred Harrington Decker, Ms. Dougherty grew up in Columbia and attended Hickman High School where she excelled as a student.

“I would be very proud of having set some sort of record on a math test and four years later she’d come along and bust it,” said her older brother, John Decker Jr.

After graduating from Hickman, Ms. Dougherty attended Radcliffe College— the sister school to Harvard University in the 1960s. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1961 and went on to study at the University of California at Berkley where she earned her MBA in sociology. During that time, she also began research for her first biography.

Decker said  Ms. Dougherty's "magnum opus" explored the sociology behind Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking Nazi official during World War II. She profiled Heydrich’s family and traveled to Germany several times to interview his widow.

“You don’t think of your little sister as a good writer, but I thought of her as a very good writer,” Decker said. “It was fascinating.”

In 1971 Ms. Dougherty married Jim Dougherty after a cross-country courtship.

“Jim decided he was going to get her to marry him,” Decker said. “He took a leave of absence and moved to the West Coast to pursue it full time. Less than a year later they moved back to the East Coast married.”

The Doughertys lived in New York City and purchased a vacation home on Shelter Island, off the coast of Manhattan, in 1976. When Nancy’s disease progressed the couple decided to make the island their permanent home.

Ms. Dougherty is survived by her husband Jim Dougherty, of Shelter Island, N.Y.; her brother John Decker Jr. and sister-in-law Linda Dougherty of Hawaii; her niece, Sarah Coomar of Woodinville, Wash.; and Jim’s nephew, Terrence Dougherty of Manhattan, N.Y..

Ms. Dougherty’s parents, John Decker and Mildred Harrington Decker, of Columbia, died earlier.

A small family service will be held Wednesday, Feb. 13, on Shelter Island. A celebration of Ms. Dougherty’s life will take place on her birthday, June 30, at the Dougherty’s Shelter Island home.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, or to The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., where Ms. Dougherty was a writer in residence.

Supervising editor is Emilie Stigliani.

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