A man of contradictions who touched many lives

01/21/2014 7:37 PM

01/21/2014 7:37 PM

Doug McNally’s memorial service on Saturday got started just as lunch was ending at the Neighbor2Neighbor ministry in Westport. Guests, staff and volunteers had only to walk from the meal room in the basement to the sanctuary of the Revolution United Methodist Church upstairs.

McNally had warned the pastor, Eric Huffman, that if Huffman ever preached at his funeral he would haunt him forever. And McNally, as someone said later, had “a very intriguing way of being manipulative.” He would be a formidable ghost. So the sermonizing was held to a minimum.

But a painfully thin woman who moves among the midtown streets sang a soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” and said she never could have faced the audience had not McNally treated her with such dignity.

A federal probation officer said McNally was the best social worker he’d encountered in 30 years.

Guests and helpers at the ministry for homeless and indigent persons, which McNally led, told stories about a man of contradictions.

McNally could both quote Scripture and cuss up a storm. He was suspicious of institutions, like governments and religions, but he loved people. He had multiple interests but he chose to spend his days with the downtrodden.

He had respiratory problems and wasn’t in good health, but his death Dec. 16 at age 67 after a short hospital stay shocked the people who knew and loved him. He was so reliable, so always present, it seemed inconceivable that lunch could be served at Neighbor2Neighbor without McNally sitting at his table by the kitchen counter, long-haired and elf-like, greeting people by name and making wry observations about events far and wide.

The work goes on, though. Seven days a week, hungry and cold people come off the streets for hot breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the ministry that McNally took over when his mentor, Stuart Whitney, died in 2005. Volunteers still come to prepare food. The small staff tries to help people who have had their heat turned off, or who face eviction because they can’t pay their rent. They worry about one of their regulars, who dropped out of sight and was discovered in a hospital with both of his feet frostbitten.

The day-to-day operations are being managed by Dwain Doran. He wandered into Neighbor2Neighbor about seven years ago, on the run from drug-dealing charges. He mopped floors and cooked meals, and slipped into a van to sleep at night.

When McNally learned of Doran’s living arrangement, he found him a room where he could stay and talked his lawyer into representing Doran pro bono. A judge listened to accounts of Doran’s volunteer work at the ministry and wiped his record clean. McNally hired Doran for the staff and made space in the basement of his home for Doran, a carpenter, to have a wood shop.

“Since he died, I have not done any wood working at all,” Doran said, as he surveyed the breakfast crowd at Neighbor2Neighbor this week. “The best that I can do is come in here every day. That’s what he did.”

McNally was at once gregarious and private, so much so that even after being married to him for eight years, his wife, Denise, said she was still finding out things about him.

“I need to hear more stories,” she kept saying at his service.

There was so much to tell. McNally had loved trees and had a collection of pressed leaves. He officiated at track meets. When he and Denise took road trips, they talked about science and discussed ideas for curing diseases. He was crazy about the Kentucky Derby. He read the news avidly and could talk about what was going on just about anywhere on the globe.

His own chosen spot in the world was a church basement dining room. There, he cursed and listened and laughed and changed people’s lives.

As Huffman said at the service, “ I hope I never forget to be like Doug.”

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