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Many hands will be needed to make up for McDougal's loss

May 12, 2010

Of her late husband, Penny McDougal said, "I have to say he was an exceptional person and maybe there's no one who can do it all the way he did, but maybe everyone can pick up a part."

Many hands make light work, but Dr. Dan McDougal did a lot of heavy lifting in the county health care field, so this will require all that many more hands. It's our hope that many will take up the challenge.

McDougal, recipient of The Herald-Mail's 2009 Person of the Year award and the 2009 People's Choice Award from the Community Foundation of Washington County, died Monday of ALS at the age of 64. His was a good and productive life, cut far too short.

Known for his work at the Community Free Clinic, McDougal fiercely went to bat for the underprivileged, those who - alone - would have had no chance fighting the monolithic insurance companies that were denying their claims.

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Righting wrongs was perhaps his main source of satisfaction.

Too often, however, it seems that those who right wrongs die before their time.

Along with being tragic, it's discouraging. We shake our fists at the Almighty and ask what's the point of it all if those responsible for good works can be so summarily snatched from our midst.

But the death of a flower produces many seeds. It's our job to see that these seeds take root.

As McDougal fought his battles for the little guy, many of us were content to sit back and let him handle it. As such, he might have even done his job too well. Health care for the poor? No need to get involved, Dan's got that one covered.

Of course, McDougal wasn't the only one in the county looking out for the disadvantaged, but it's likely that his was the voice that carried the most weight.

Now, it's worth our time to reflect on his life and consider how we might step in and, as Penny McDougal says, "pick up a part." Or plant a seed.

It doesn't have to be in health care; had McDougal's talents been in carpentry instead of medicine, he likely would have been building houses for the poor.

Instead, it's proper to consider the type of life McDougal lived and use the talents with which we have been blessed individually as he might have used them himself - thoughtfully, energetically, selflessly.

Using McDougal's life as a template, we can all do just a bit to help those in need. It might be as simple as a kind word, or as substantive as a check. It might take a few hours of volunteering in the community or a few hours in our own homes that are exclusively devoted to our families.

Consider that every child possesses a gift that every elderly person is bound to love - a smile.

Love defined McDougal, said his daughter Amy Hutchens.

"He was a person, more than anybody I think I've ever known, who was just completely full of love," she said. "It's just a lot of love to disappear from the planet at once."

Yes it is. So the rest of us better start producing an extra share. A little extra kindness once or twice a day is the best way we can honor a man whose work must be both recognized and, more importantly, perpetuated.

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