I got another chance last week. Rita Dougherty died. She was the wife of a man named Jim Dougherty, with whom Iíve had the great pleasure of writing a book. Rita was his wife, his darling, his girl, and she was possessed of the most beautiful smile Iíve ever seen. It just knocked the sun out of the sky.
This was my eulogy to Rita.
I got to meet Rita Dougherty the day I met Jim years ago, when I drove to Sabattus on a beautiful day to get acquainted and to talk with Jim about writing his book.
When I walked through the door of their home on the lake, the smile of greeting from Rita nearly blinded me. It continued to do so for all those years I knew her. Rita was always so gracious to me, so kind. I loved her always.
I recall once driving home from the airport, Jim and me in the front seat, Rita in the back, after a long trip to California together, and in idle conversation, I made the mistake of expressing my dislike for Rush Limbaugh. Well! Rita proceeded to dress me down something fierce, defending Limbaugh, shouting at me that, "HE TELLS THE TRUTH!!" and that I was badly misinformed. With much amusement, I watched her in the rear view mirror, bouncing angrily. Talk about your wet hens! Little Rita was livid, and I quickly learned that one never, ever messes with an angry little French lady.
But sweet Reet forgave me my transgression and we remained friends.
Rita never minded being told she was a clone of Jimís first wife (Marilyn Monroe) and she loved all the attention that brought. (And in fact she was a clone of MM---same age, height, eyes, body, hairóeverything. Only prettier!)
Rita loved the hoopla, the people coming to their home for interviews from all over the world, taking trips for more interviews and TV shows. She was never jealous of Jimís first wife, never minded being in the background, and was always happy to be a part of it all. For her, all of that was a gift sheíd never had gotten had she married a boring man.
I will remember much about Rita Dougherty. For instance, as often as she heard Jimís groaner Irish jokes, she still laughed uproariously as if they were brand new to her. She also never tired of listening to the stories of Jimís past life, and especially about his first wife. She adored Jim.
Rita struggled so hard with her memory toward the end and yet Iím grateful she never forgot who I was. Every time I walked into her home, I again got to see that enormous, brilliant smile, and she always looked, as they used to say, as if sheíd just stepped out of a bandbox. She was one of the most beautiful and well put together women Iíve ever known.
I will miss Rita Dougherty. Our granddaughter Jordan was visiting, and when I told her I had to leave for a while to go say goodbye to my friend Rita because sheíd died, Jordan said, "Donít be sad, Gramma. Rita is in heaven where thereís all the cotton candy she can eat!!"
I love you and will miss you, Rita. Keep eating that heavenly cotton candy, and when our time comes to join you, you will light our way to you with that great, big, beautiful shining smile of yours. ĎBye Little Reet.