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Robin Dougherty, 1959Ė2005

"Beloved critic" sounds like an oxymoron. But Robin Dougherty, who passed away last weekend following a long if upbeat battle with cancer, was a reviewer everybody liked. Robin was associated with the Phoenix from 1985 to 1995, as a jack-of-all-arts reporter, weighing in on film, television, theater, and books. A decade ago she gave up her coveted, rent-controlled Cambridge digs and decamped to Florida to become chief television critic for the Miami Herald. She also covered theater for the Miami and Broward/Palm Beach editions of New Times. In 2000, wanting to be closer to family, in particular to the nieces and nephew she adored, she bade farewell to her oceanfront condo, packed up her dog and cat, and returned to Washington, DC, where she had grown up. From there, she freelanced for various publications, including the Boston Globe, for which she wrote a biweekly book column, and WBUR Arts Online, to which she contributed film reviews. Other affiliations ran the gamut from Salon to the dog-aficionadosí magazine Bark, which last winter published her remarkable but true account of human-pet telepathy. It seems Robinís faithful canine compatriot, Mollie, lost her kibble every time her mistress had chemotherapy.

Leave it to Robin to find that Animal Planet aspect of her illness experience not only curious but also fascinating. No armchair pontificator, she was a critic who turned a sly, wry, inquisitive eye on the various beats she covered. Whether talking Sophocles or Lucille Ball (whom she worshipped), she was less a pundit than a discerning appreciator. Having graduated from the College of William and Mary, Robin came to Boston to pursue an MA in creative writing, earning her Boston University degree in 1982. She became a journalist, however, using her mental acquisitiveness and keen ear for irony to investigate the creativity of others.

As someone who vetted her Phoenix theater reviews for years, I can testify that Robin was an editorís dream, who seldom missed a deadline (even when ill), wrote informed and accessible prose, and, like all the best writers, was grateful rather than hostile to an editor. That she wrote about so many media indicates her critical ambidextrousness: she didnít pose as an egghead expert but responded with a lively intelligence and a cocked eyebrow to ideas of all sorts.

Robin devoted herself, in the main, to arts journalism. But her great art was the cultivation of her friends. Like some charming social Pied Piper, she moved from locale to locale, organization to organization, dragging an ever-increasing string behind her. So great was the throng that, during the years of her illness, news of her ups and downs had to be disseminated through an e-mail apparatus worthy of the Pentagon.

Robinís writings on the arts were much in demand, for good reason. She brought an industrious and receptive, if skeptical, mind and a ready wit to the task. Her readers will miss that. Her family of friends will miss so much more.

Issue Date: May 27 - June 2, 2005
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