Dick Doty clutched the enlarged steering wheel of his motor home. His wife, Ellen, sat beside him. The ever-changing American landscape filled the vehicle’s gigantic windshield.
As he had for three straight years as the Dotys traveled the United States, Dick Doty began to whistle, three stair-stepping high notes, three back down, three times, capped off with a pursed-lipped crescendo.
“Amazing Grace,” Dick Doty’s favorite because of the high notes and an easy one for Ellen, who was supposed to guess what ever tune passed through her husband’s lips.
“He was the most beautiful whistler I ever heard. Other people could sing, but Dick could whistle,” Ellen Doty said. “He loved ‘Amazing Grace.’ That’s why I had it played at his funeral.”
Dick Doty, a Spokane Valley resident for several years, died unexpectedly Aug. 2. He was 66. He was an insurance salesman known throughout the Spokane area for his quick smile and his catchy, if not irksome, radio jingle sang to the tune of “K-K-K-K-Katy,” Geoffrey O’ Hara’s 1918 song about a stuttering World War I soldier who opts to sing what he can’t seem to say.
“Dick D-D-D-D-Doty. Dick D-D-D-D-Doty.” The jingle played for years on Spokane area radio stations. It annoyed the heck out of people, but they knew Dick Doty & Associates Insurance Agency. The business on North Pines Road was an institution.
Dick Doty’s youngest son, Rahn, said the radio jingle was one of the first things strangers quizzed him about when they learned his name and who his father was.
The funny thing was Rahn never recalled hearing the song much as a kid. Dick Doty was an AM radio guy. His kids were not.
Other people marveled at Doty’s success as a businessman.
“The first job I ever got was at a 7-Eleven. This guy asked me, ‘Is your dad Dick Doty?’ Then he started talking about what a smart businessman my father was, which I found beyond bizarre,” Rahn said. “My dad? He was telling me stuff I had no idea about.”
Dick Doty was president of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Washington State Independent Agents for Insurance. He had a smile that wouldn’t stop. He seemed to know everyone.
Ken Giles, Dick Doty’s business partner, said Doty had done such a thorough job introducing himself to the community, it was impossible to find a new customer who didn’t know the senior partner. Everyone liked Dick Doty, who wasn’t afraid to turn a customer away if Dick Doty thought someone else could serve a client better.
The Dick Doty remembered by Rahn is the private airplane pilot who, in midflight, handed his youngest child the control wheel of a Cessna Cherokee 6 airplane and instructed the 6-year-old boy to take them home.
“He said, ‘Here’s the instrument panel. Ignore that stuff and just take a hold of the wheel. Keep your wings even with the horizon,’.” Rahn recalled.
Dick Doty taught all three of his children how to fly. The children were from his first marriage with Becky LeJeune, whom Doty met while stationed at an Air Force base in Louisiana. Dick Doty became a pilot while serving in the Air Force. Doty was a radar, bombing and navigation specialist in the service. He learned to fly through the Air Force Aero Club.
Carolyn Doty, Dick Doty’s oldest child, remembers when her father flew helicopters and would land one in a field next to their Spokane Valley home. Dick Doty was a Civil Air patrolman. During his service, he located a couple of downed planes.
He wasn’t a real attentive father, at least not on a daily basis. Dick Doty’s children say he always seemed to be working. And his kids just knew he wasn’t at home. It wasn’t until later that Carolyn Doty realized that her father’s hard work was for his family’s benefit. She was only beginning to learn about the Doty family history when her father died of a heart attack.
“When I was an adult, we started to see eye to eye with each other,” Carolyn Doty said. “I started to respect that he worked his ass off to support us.”
Later, after his kids had families of their own, Dick Doty got a second chance by spending time with his grandchildren.
He moved to Kamiah, Idaho, a couple of years ago. His back yard there was a fishing paradise for his 19 grandchildren, some of whom were his through his second marriage to Ellen. He passed on the family trick of striking a spoon on a dining room table and sending it flipping into a water glass.
“He thought (the spoon trick) was fun because his father had taught it to him and his grandfather taught it to his father. So, they thought it was very funny,” Ellen Doty said. “Of course, it drove the mothers crazy.”
In Kamiah, Dick Doty immersed himself in the town history. His family had lived there for several generations. Dick Doty used to tell his children that Sitting Bull camped on his family’s property en route to Canada and the promise of freedom from Indian reservations. The chief didn’t make it.
When Dick Doty learned that tourists were passing though the Kamiah area on buses, he decided to organize interpretive discussions on Lewis and Clark’s activities in the area. The discussions took place at a local restaurant.
“There was never a dull moment with Dick,” Ellen Doty said. “It was all fun, and he was a busy fellow.”