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Ann Dougherty, 57, librarian who wrote love letters for patrons

She befriended many at the Rodriguez branch in Northern Liberties.

Ann Dougherty
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ANN DOUGHERTY used to say she felt like Cyrano, the fictional character who wrote love letters for a fellow soldier in the famous French play by Edmond Rostand.

Ann did the same for a number of male patrons of the Free Library's Rodriguez branch, including a Spanish-speaking man who wanted to woo an English-speaking woman.

Ann helped him write the love letter, and the man got his first date. Alas, Ann never found out if the romance lasted.

Ann was a librarian, but nothing like the librarians usually thought of as dowdy spinsters in dim rooms reeking of the dusty volumes of forgotten lore.

She befriended many a lost soul, helping parents find lost children, and bringing in attractions not usually found in a library, including flamenco dancers and a sword swallower, as well as the usual academics discussing history and world events.

Ann died suddenly March 3 of natural causes. She was 57 and lived in South Philadelphia.

"Colleagues, friends and family alike remember Ann's eagerness to connect with anyone according to their topics of interest," her family said.

"Her ability to embolden the shyest of people was a true gift. She was just as comfortable chatting about Tolstoy as local sports figures.

"With children, she was as energetic about Maurice Sendak as dinosaurs and every topic in between. Her twin gifts of kindness and razor-sharp memory for detail earned her many devotees.

"Some came to their neighborhood library just to visit with Ann. A natural-born storyteller, lover of movies and current events, and all-around cheerleader for the city of Philadelphia, Ann's enthusiasm was infectious."

The Rodriguez library branch, at 6th Street and Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties, draws from an eclectic stew of city life.

In an article in 2004 by the Daily News' Gloria Campisi, the library patrons included "Albanian, Moroccan, Latin American and Palestinian immigrants, recovering drug addicts, African-American teens, Jewish seniors, artists, and the new, more affluent, residents of Northern Liberties."

Ann told Gloria that reading is the "cornerstone of life. There is very little you can do, even on the computer, if you can't read or write."

Ann's own education was sharpened by Smith College and Columbia University. She held jobs with Temple University, the Library Company of Philadelphia, College of Physicians and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society before taking the job at the Rodriguez library branch.

In an article in 2002 by the Inquirer's Mike Vitez, Ann told about the sword swallower, brought to the library by Gretchen Worden, director of the Mutter Museum, who also showed slides of the museum's rather spooky collection of skeletons and rare medical artifacts.

Ann also befriended a sculptor, Abraham Rothbladt, who created art works out of coat hangers. She supplied him with coat hangers.

Recently, Ann teamed with a friend to rescue a neglected street dog and find the lost puppy a happy home.

Ann was born in Indianapolis and raised in North Wilmington, Del. She is survived by two daughters, Barbara Butkus and Rachel Ramirez; a son, David Harshbarger; her father, Frank M. Dougherty; two brothers, Frank "Tim" Dougherty and Jack Dougherty; and a sister, Sara Dougherty-Jones.

Services: Memorial service 11 a.m. Saturday, March 28, at Concord Presbyterian Church, Foulk Road, Wilmington.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Free Library of Philadelphia.