Junior Michael Doherty was much beloved by his friends, teammates and professors.
Doherty, who was 20 at the time, passed away almost two weeks ago near his home in Massachusetts. He is survived by his parents, Daniel and Nancy, and brothers, Kevin and Daniel, as well as many friends at Duke and beyond. The Chronicle spoke to several people who knew Doherty during his time at Duke. They all gave a similar depiction: Doherty was kind and friendly and while sometimes reserved, had a smile that lit up a room.
When he went missing, Doherty had just finished his sophomore year in the Mechanical Engineering program at Duke, an institution he loved deeply, friends said. Affectionately nicknamed “Doh Boy," Doherty was popular among his friends and fellow members of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
Doherty’s body was found in Massachusetts last week after he disappeared on his way home a week prior. Several of his fraternity brothers who lived in the area assisted in the nearly weeklong search.
Junior Jack Ditomassi became close with Doherty through their fraternity. The two had gone to rival high schools in Massachusetts but bonded over their mutual friends and connections to home. They got close over Fall Break when they stayed on campus.
“He loved hanging out with his friends, no matter what the circumstances were,” Ditomassi said, noting that Doherty would drive people to Cook Out in the middle of the night, regardless of how much work he had.
One of Ditomassi’s favorite memories was driving back to Massachusetts together. Although long car trips may not sound fun, Ditomassi said the conversations were amazing.
Junior Peter Ciporin was Doherty’s roommate this past year.
“He’s the type of kid that it’s hard to have a bad impression of,” Ciporin said. “You talk to him once, you can immediately tell how nice of a guy he is, how good of a friend he is to all of his friends and family.”
Ciporin explained that though they both had quiet personalities, he could tell that he and Doherty had a bond. They also participated in the Project Waves pre-orientation program together before their first year at Duke.
Doherty’s popularity extended into the classroom.
“He had such positive energy,” said Rebecca Simmons, assistant professor of the practice in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Material Science. “He just always came with a smile and willing to pitch in and help out. I can't imagine him ever complaining.”
Simmons taught Doherty last Fall in her Engineering 121 class and was slated to have him in another class after summer break. She said that she recalled his excited participation in the class’ final project: designing a Rube-Goldberg machine.
The small class felt like a family, Simmons said, noting that Doherty had a quiet yet strong presence.
Michael Gustafson—associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering who had Doherty in his Engineering 103 class—recalled his positive attitude and smile.
“I can say I know the smile that so many of his friends have talked about,” Gustafson wrote in an email. “As people were turning in the second test of Mechatronics, I remember Mike turning to me, smiling, and saying, ‘Well, that was pretty hard Dr. G!’”
Friends also noted that Doherty was athletic and took to sports easily. An avid Red Sox fan, he participated in several intramural sports at Duke and was going to be a captain of Duke’s Club Hockey team next year. Junior Jordan Siff played with Doherty on the hockey team and recalled Doherty leaving a “positive impression” on people he interacted with.
“He carried this presence everywhere he went; on the ice he was cool, calm, collected, and a player that everyone could learn from,” Siff said. “Off the ice he led by example and was a great teammate and friend. There was never a situation that could break his good spirit, and it truly radiated to the people around him.”
Scott Martin, Pratt ’14, led the hockey team during his time at Duke and praised Doherty’s selection as the team’s president and captain.
“He has always been the epitome of patience, humility, and understanding,” Martin wrote in an email. “He was an unwavering presence of optimism... meanwhile balancing that with a competitive drive and motivation that frequently sparked the fire in those around him.”
Martin added that he would miss seeing Doherty’s face in the locker room and his wry sense of humor.
Back in the dorms, Ditomassi recalled frequently watching Red Sox games with Doherty in their rooms. After a particularly painful loss, he asked if they could go listen to sad music together to mourn. The two listened to an entire Fleetwood Mac album together, Ditomassi said.
Ditomassi also said Doherty knew every line of his favorite movie—“Miracle”—about a winning USA hockey team. They bought matching jerseys to go along with the film, a symbol of the friendship they had formed.
A number of Doherty’s fraternity brothers said they intended to attend Doherty’s funeral Thursday. They also have worked to launch the Michael Doherty Memorial Endowment Fund within the Pratt School of Engineering, which is intended to provide scholarships for students studying engineering. The fund has to raise $100,000 before it can be considered an official endowment. Otherwise, the funds will be used for the Engineering Annual Fund.
“There’s only a few words that encapsulate his being—just nice, warm, kindhearted,” Ciporin said.
Over and over as we talked to people about Doherty, the same sentiments kept coming up: Doherty had an amazingly positive attitude and a big smile.
“We've lost a great player, leader and friend,” Martin wrote.
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Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.