Home > Uncategorized > A tribute to Tom Doherty and to the Wrentham Developmental Center

A tribute to Tom Doherty and to the Wrentham Developmental Center

(Note: We are reprinting a recent letter to Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Jane Ryder from Mary Ann Ulevich, a cousin and sole guardian of Thomas Doherty. Tom, who was a resident of the Wrentham Developmental Center, died on October 24 at the age of 68.

Mary Ann is a COFAR member and a member of the Wrentham Board of Trustees and of the Wrentham Family Association.)

November 15, 2019

Jane F. Ryder, Commissioner
Department of Developmental Services
500 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118

Dear Commissioner Ryder,

Thank you for your letter of condolence following the death last month of my cousin Thomas Doherty, for whom I was guardian, at Wrentham Developmental Center.

I want you to know how pleased I, and Tom’s family, have been with Tom’s care throughout his more than 46 years as a client of DDS. When Tom returned home to Woburn, MA, from more than 10 years at Devereux Center in Pennsylvania, he was placed at Templeton Developmental Center (then part of Fernald Center). He enjoyed frequent visits with his parents in Woburn, and thrived in the Templeton community.

Following his mother’s death in 1997, I was named co-guardian with his aunt. Since 1998, I have been his sole guardian. When Templeton was closing in 2011, I had the daunting task of deciding upon an alternate placement for him. Recognizing that he had been in care facilities for almost 40 years and was thriving and happy, and in consultation with DDS staff, I decided to place Tommy at Wrentham Developmental Center. I believe this decision honored his mother’s wishes for him to be cared for, challenged to develop his many talents, and to be safe in his home and community.

Mary Ann Ulevich and Tom Doherty

Mary Ann Ulevich and Tom Doherty

The Wrentham staff welcomed Tom in December 2011. His transition was smooth, thanks to the sensitive, professional care extended him and to me, his guardian. Tom lived with six other residents in Oak Grove 1 cottage on the grounds of Wrentham, where he had his own room, enjoyed listening to his Beatles, Lennon Sisters and other much loved record albums.

He watched General Hospital, westerns, and the Red Sox on TV. Tom worked Monday through Friday in the dining room, enjoyed group activities including shopping trips to Patriots Place, eating out at local restaurants, and outings to ball games (including two trips to Spring Training), visits to Cape Cod, apple picking and local fairs. The folks at the town bank, drugstore, and coffee shops knew him by name and mourned his death, along with the WDC community of residents and staff. He loved getting mail, especially if pictures of family were enclosed.

Tom delighted in seeing cousins, however distant, and his affection for them was disarming. His memories of his parents and family were filled with happiness. Tommy’s pleasures were simple…the Red Sox, the Beatles, his family picture albums, a good day at work, coffee, a cigar now and then, and his time with friends and staff.

Tom died last month of esophageal cancer. His care at WDC was outstanding. His diagnosis was made at Dana Farber, and treatment was coordinated with the talented medical staff at WDC. More than once, medical staff at Dana Farber commented on how well Tom was physically cared for at WDC and how professional the WDC medical team was in working with them.

I and WDC caregivers accompanied Tom to his medical appointments, and I too can attest to the professional and compassionate care that flowed naturally from this outstanding WDC staff. Tom’s WDC social worker provided consistent support for all of us – Tom, the WDC staff, the hospice team, and family. Tom’s wish to remain in his home, with his friends and staff, was gracefully accommodated with a beautiful team effort. His final weeks saw him celebrated with music, a trip to Fenway Park, and a party in his honor attended by scores of friends. In his last days, he was visited by employees of every department at WDC, by retired employees, and members of the community.

Tom’s funeral, held at WDC with a funeral Mass celebrated by the local church pastor, was a testament to the caregivers/staff at WDC. Together with family, the staff and residents planned and participated in every detail, down to the last song, Let it Be. Yes, Tom was loved by his family, but he was cherished by those who lived and worked at Wrentham. His funeral was attended by more than 120 mourners, prompting my brother to ask me, “Who are these people?”  The vast majority were the loving, compassionate folks who work at WDC.

I could go on. But I just want you to know how proud you can be of the work carried out at WDC. I know that the philosophy of care for those with intellectual disability is to provide support to remain in their community with their families, with guidance and services.  I fully support this contemporary approach, but acknowledge that there are many who because of their history and challenges, and/or because of the progression of their needs combined with diminished family and community resources, can and do thrive in facility-based care.

Our experience affirms the quality of life that is possible in a facility like WDC. And it was made possible by the community that is WDC – its staff. I could list countless staff providing extraordinary, creative care under the leadership of the director, Judi Lydon-Ruby. Every department, from administration through maintenance and medical teams and social services and contracted services and direct care staff and volunteers, has as their focus the care and safety of the vulnerable people entrusted to them. Their compassion, longevity, and commitment affirm the accumulated wealth of experience that defines the care at WDC.

On behalf of Tom and our family, I thank you and the exemplary staff at Wrentham for ensuring Tom’s rich and rewarding life.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Ann Ulevich

  1. Anonymous
    December 26, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    What a nice tribute to read!


  2. Kathy Mackechnie
    December 26, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    I knew Tom as my brother,Tom,transferred from a group home in the western part of the state was placed in Oak Grove 1 with him. WDC,i believe, is superbly run with the disabled person at the top of their list! As Tom Doherty s guardian says in her letter, facilitys need to remain open.


  3. Anonymous
    December 27, 2019 at 8:53 am

    That is the care deserved by all our friends .


  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: