Edward John Dougherty did so much living in his 95 years and left so many memories when he died on Jan. 18 that what he did and who he was are quite simply a history lesson.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Upper Darby, where he became lifelong friends with legendary basketball coach Jack Ramsay, Mr. Dougherty fought and was badly injured in World War II, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School on the GI Bill, and worked for a time in his hometown before moving his family to California to work for Sun Chemicals in San Leandro near Oakland, selling printing ink to newspapers, including the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, and Fresno Bee.
When his college roommate, Mike O’Neill, asked him to return home in the early 1960s to help with the construction of Liberty Bell Park in Northeast Philadelphia, Mr. Dougherty agreed. The track opened in 1963, and Mr. Dougherty became its president in 1964. He later became president of the Harness Tracks of America, the sport’s promotional arm.
Liberty Bell began as a harness track and, for a time, had thoroughbred and standardbred meets. It was strictly a harness track when it closed in 1986. It was on the site that became Franklin Mills Mall, now known as Philadelphia Mills.
``He became familiar with racing when he worked in California,’’ Mr. Dougherty’s son Ed. Jr. said. ``Somehow, in a casual conversation, he conveyed that to Mike O’Neill.’’
O’Neill, who worked at the Inquirer and later was an executive at TV Guide and Look Magazine, among other publications, had married into the family that got the Liberty Bell license. It was O’Neill who set the ``wheels in motion’’ for Mr. Dougherty’s return home, according to Ed Jr., whose first job out of college was in the Inquirer newsroom. He described his job as a ``gopher at every imaginable level, but it was thrilling.’’
Mr. Dougherty worked side by side with O’Neill as Liberty Bell was under construction and during its opening. And then harness racing became Mr. Dougherty’s life for decades.
``That would have been something in his youth that would have been so far away. It would have been hard to even conceive that path,’’ Ed Jr. said.
Tom Aldrich, a longtime harness racing executive based at Northfield Park in Ohio, met Mr. Dougherty briefly in the mid-1970s.
``I knew he was considered pretty much of a giant in the industry,’’ Aldrich said in a voicemail. ``That’s at the time when Liberty Bell was going great guns and before the dates dispute when Brandywine [in Delaware] and Liberty Bell butted heads years later …
``I recall him as being a very dignified man who seemed very approachable and friendly. ... When I read about his wartime service in World War II and then starting Liberty Bell with a partner and all his life experiences and his large family, I said to Ed. Jr. in an email that he epitomized the Greatest Generation.’’
Mr. Dougherty spent more than a year in France recovering after being badly wounded by an artillery shell during the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket. He was behind enemy lines on a reconnaissance mission with the 86th Division when his unit was discovered while monitoring German refueling patterns. He required further treatment after returning home to Philadelphia.
After working in the harness industry when it was at its peak, Mr. Dougherty later worked a consultant to the coal industry. After retirement, Mr. Dougherty and his wife, Gloria, lived in Doylestown near the Bucks County courthouse. He found time to be a ticket taker at the Bucks County Theater, get Docent of the Year honors at the Michener Museum, and attend daily Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.