Junior Michael Doherty’s death this summer devastated members of his fraternity Alpha Tau Omega, but they’re finding solace in raising money for an endowment fund to honor their dear friend. 

Doherty, a student in the Pratt School of Engineering, passed away in May near his home in Franklin, Mass. Shortly afterwards, members of ATO began the Michael Doherty Memorial Endowment Fund to honor his legacy at Duke by creating a permanent, annual scholarship for an undergraduate engineering student. The fund has currently raised almost $110,000, surpassing the original goal of $100,000. 

“Mike was the best of us, we all loved him so much,” said senior John Clarke, president of ATO. “We tried to think of what the best way to commemorate him would be and decided it would be to continuously give to students who embody the same characteristics Mike did."

Senior Fred Lang, philanthropy chair of ATO, explained that they began by sending out an email to the fraternity encouraging each member to ask 10 friends and family members to donate. In addition to making frequent posts on Facebook, the brothers also contacted ATO alumni and other organizations on campus like the Interfraternity Council and various club sports groups. 

“It was pretty organic, a lot of people were asking how they could help,” Clarke said. “The outpour from the Duke community was pretty exceptional.”

However, the members did not think they would reach their goal so quickly. By the end of July, the fund surpassed $100,000 after having been open since May 25. 

“We were hell bent on getting it,” Clarke said. “We wanted to honor our guy.”

The fund has received more than 230 individual gifts thus far, including one for $25,000 from David Eklund, an alum whose son was friends with Doherty. Judge Carr, senior associate dean for development and alumni relations who helped coordinate the fund, said the overwhelming support amazed him. 

“I’ve never seen something mushroom like this in such a short time,” Carr said. “I was completely taken aback by how quick this happened.”

Although the fraternity does not yet know what criteria will be used to select the scholarship recipient, they plan to write letters to the recipients, explaining Doherty’s legacy, Lang said. Carr noted that the scholarship will be need-based. 

Now, the fraternity is turning its attention to raising money for a bench in the Duke Gardens honoring Doherty, for which they need to raise $25,000. 

Clarke explained that Doherty was notorious for napping on a red couch in the ATO common room, frequently sleeping through the racket of brothers coming and going. Members thought that a bench would be a neat way to memorialize him, since they knew he would have loved to take a nap on it. 

Because of the construction happening on West Campus, they decided to find a shady spot in the Gardens. Lang said he met with the development director at the Duke Gardens, who helped him find a place near a boulder outcropping where passersby can sit in solitude and think.

To fundraise for this, ATO is planning to sell t-shirts and host philanthropy events later in the semester, Clarke said.  

He added that there will also be a commemorative memorial service for Doherty led by Father Michael Martin Oct. 1 in the Duke Chapel that is open to the entire Duke community. Many students who loved Doherty were not able to attend his service in Massachusetts, so this will be a way to remember and honor him, he said. 

Clarke said he knows their efforts are making Doherty proud and that he has been amazed at how much love there is for Doherty. 

“It’s well beyond just raising money,” he said. “It’s great to say 'holy crap we raised this money,' but we’re more emotional and overwhelmed at the love and respect.”

The group effort of raising money in memory of Doherty has also helped the brothers during this difficult time, Lang explained.   

“It’s just been really amazing to see how the fraternity has come together on this,” he said. “It’s a great closure. This bad thing happened but at least we have each other.”