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(Class of '43) Joan Dougherty - Educational Advocate

I grew up with my brother and sister in a little house at the top of Cote des Neiges. The Mountain served as our backyard.

My Father was an American who came to study medicine at McGill University in 1912. He never went home. He worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital where he met my Mother who was a nurse. Mother and Dad had high expectations for each of us. They took great pride in our accomplishments.

School began at Miss Dunlop's. She was British, strong on the three R's and singing - always 'God Save the King' and 'O Canada', each morning. We all sat in the same classroom and learned at our own pace. At age seven, I went to the Study armed with the ability to read, write and do long division. My love of music and my capacity to work on my own have been the most enduring influences of the Study.

Upon graduation in 1943, I entered McGill where physics and biology captured my interest. I graduated with a B.Sc. in 1947 and went to MIT in Boston where I spent a year studying Biophysics. My decision to marry Donald Dougherty brought me back to Montreal where I completed my M.Sc. in 1950. Two months later,my first child was born. I had three other children in quick succession, with a fifth child arriving a bit later, so childcare became a fulltime occupation.

My voluntary activity grew out of a need for a weekly escape from the home routine. I joined the Junior League of Montreal where I learned about the community and how to contribute in a personal way to its betterment. This was the springboard of my entry into the work of the whole gamut of community organizations.

As a member of the Town of Mount Royal School Board, I hit the jackpot. I became involved in the study of what appeared to be a growing number of children with moderate to serious learning difficulties despite normal intelligence. We were inspired by the genius of Dr. Sam Rabinovitch whose pioneering work at the Montreal Children's Hospital was leading to important insights into the learning process. His messages seemed simple but the implications were profound. Sam's teachings were so exciting to me that they have fuelled my efforts for the rest of my life.

Every child is unique. You must teach to his or her strengths because a child becomes motivated through successful experiences, not by harping on mistakes. Reading is complex: it involves 25 different skills. Problems can result from inefficiencies of the nervous system. Helping involves finding what a child can do and going from there.

For all these reasons, education must be individualized and take all sorts of directions so that each child can become his or her best self. Always mindful of these principles, I spent eight wonderful years on the
Board of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, as well as a few years on the Board of Governors of McGill University. The following eight years were spent as a Member of the National Assembly and Parliamentary Assistant to the then Minister of Education, Mr. Claude Ryan.

When my views about the importance of learning both French and English ran head on into the policies of the Government - notably Bill 101 - I left the government and returned to community work. For the last 18 years, I have focused on two outstanding projects. First, at the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf, where children learn to speak, I have helped raise funds to build a new school. At AVATIL, we provide support to marginally intellectually handicapped young people in their struggle for greater dignity through independence.

Life is like a painting. When you start, you have no idea how it will turn out. With each stroke you define yourself, and gradually you discover what's in the picture.

Joan Mason Dougherty | August, 2010