Tuesday, November 01, 2011

TOP STORY >> Ward woman honored

Leader staff writer

Billie Jean Dougherty of Ward was inducted into the Senior Arkansans Hall of Fame during the 31st annual Arkansas Aging Conference held at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

The Senior Arkansans Hall of Fame was created by the state legislature in 1999 to honor the significant contributions of older Arkansans.

Included on Dougherty’s nomination list was her work with a coalition that played a key role in ridding the state of abusive payday lending.

The lenders preyed on the poor, she said. They preyed on young couples who probably didn’t know how to manage their small incomes and needed money for the doctor and they preyed on the elderly living on fixed incomes.

They would charge $50 for a $300 loan that had to be paid back in two weeks, she said. And when the two weeks was up and their customers couldn’t repay the loan, they would start it all over again with another $50 fee.

“It was loan sharking in different clothes,” she said. “And I could see what it was doing to people.”

“I just have a love of people. And I’m motherly,” Dougherty said in an attempt to downplay the honor.

She’s not that great, she said. She’s just trying to repay kindnesses she’s received from other people and from God who has carried her through her almost 83-year life.

On Tuesday afternoon, she was busy in her kitchen making lasagna for company she was expecting that evening.

On another day, she might be found doing laundry for a neighbor who had to move to a nursing home or sitting in front of her computer writing her family history or working on various reports for friends who lack the writing skills she honed while working at a local newspaper – just the ordinary activities of a retired person.

In addition to doing almost every job available at a small newspaper, Dougherty taught elementary school in Alabama, owned a store in Lonoke and worked as a substitute teacher for the Cabot School District.

She became a member of AARP in 2005 after her husband died. Disabled with Parkinson’s disease, he required four years of total care before he died and friends helped get her through it, she said.

“People were so good to me and I decided I would do everything I could to help other people,” she said.

Dougherty is well-known in the Cabot area for her work with the local AARP. She currently serves as the vice president of the Cabot chapter as well as holding a position in Hub 6 (North Central Arkansas).

She also serves on the Governor’s Aging Advisory Council and on the Carelink Council of Advisers.

Her other honors and awards include a five-year volunteer visitor award from Arkansas Hospice; a certificate of appreciation from Central Arkansas Development Council; home town health recognition for service from the Arkansas Health Department; the Governor’s Volunteer Award; and AARP Arkansas’ 2011 Distinguished Service Award.

This year, eight people were nominated for the Senior Arkansans Hall of Fame. Dougherty was among the four who were chosen.