Larry Dohey, archivist and 'real treasure,' remembered for bringing N.L. history alive

Larry Dohey, an archivist at The Rooms and fount of historical knowledge of all things Newfoundland and Labrador, has died.

N.L. has lost a 'true champion' in his passing

Archivist Larry Dohey died this week. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Condolences are pouring in as news spreads that Larry Dohey, archivist at The Rooms, an "outstanding ambassador" and fount of historical knowledge of all things Newfoundland and Labrador, has died.

Dohey was 59.

He collapsed while giving a talk in Placentia on Monday. Dohey was rushed to hospital in St. John's, where doctors discovered he had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

Dohey lapsed into a coma, and died on early Wednesday morning.

"We're profoundly saddened this morning by the loss of our dear colleague and friend," said Anne Chafe, interim CEO of The Rooms provincial archive and museum.

"He spread the word of The Rooms far and wide and he was just an outstanding ambassador for the work that we do."

Dohey, right, shows Donald Hawse archival records at The Rooms confirming that his father had, in fact, fought in the First World War, despite incorrect records. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Chafe said Dohey was a bright personality and a "real treasure to work with."

While he was always jovial in the workplace, Chafe said, Dohey often did most of his research in the evenings, on his own time, after spending his work hours developing programming and speaking with visitors at The Rooms.

"Oh my goodness, Larry was always full of energy, he always had a spring in his step. He knew the history of this province so deeply and was passionate about sharing with others," she said.

"I think he inspired all of us to be proud of our history and who we are as a people, and he wanted to shout that from the top of the rooftops."

As a longtime archivist, Dohey had a wealth of provincial anecdotes and stories of Newfoundland and Labrador traditions.

He was well known throughout the province for his encyclopedic knowledge of Newfoundland and Labrador's history.

Minister Christopher Mitchelmore tweeted that the province has lost a "true champion."

"May all NLers view the past with his reverence, today with his humour & the future with his optimism," tweeted former Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett.

Dohey shared his historical knowledge on his blog, Archival Moments, the most recent entry on the website being from Aug. 19.

Dohey's love of provincial history brought him all across the globe, including a special trip to Paris to seek out a Newfoundland connection at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Back in 2014, while researching aspects of Royal Newfoundland Regiment history in preparation for an exhibition at The Rooms, Dohey stumbled across a plaque, bearing a Newfoundland coat of arms, mounted on one of Notre Dame's church pillars. 

Storyteller, interpreter, teacher

Anne Walsh worked alongside Dohey as a member of the Basilica Museum and Historical Committee, but their lives had been intertwined since their time at Memorial University, beginning in the fall of 1978.

Walsh remembers meeting Dohey on her very first day at MUN, and the the pair had worked together in one way or another often since then.

Dohey trekked to Notre-Dame in 2017 to see the plaque. (Submitted by Larry Dohey)

"Larry has been part of my life since I was 17 years old," Walsh told CBC Radio's On The Go.

Walsh said Dohey was often one to create a teaching moment in his time on the historical committee with the Basilica of St. John the Baptist Church.

She said Dohey loved to share the quirkiest facts that he knew about any given topic — not to boast, but to teach the significance of the knowledge he was passing. 

"I think he saw his role as either teacher or interpreter. I think Larry was probably one of the best teachers I have ever met. He may have never called himself a teacher, but Larry could not, not teach. He had this enthusiasm that was contagious and palpable," she said. 

Anne Walsh had a lifelong friendship with Dohey, beginning at Memorial University in the fall of 1978. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

But it was an inside track that helped Dohey obtain such massive amounts of knowledge about the church, according to Walsh. 

Walsh said Dohey had actually studied for the priesthood, but decided later not to follow that particular path.

He did go on to become the archivist for the archdiocese, and would help to curate programs such as the holiday nativity scene representing of different cultures from places outside of North America.

"I think the one thing I want to say is how grateful I am that I knew Larry Dohey and how privileged I am to have been able to call him a friend," Walsh said.   

Newspaper man

In the early '80s, Dohey began working for the  Monitor, a newspaper published by the Roman Catholic Church of Newfoundland that ran from 1934 until 2003.

He contributed to the paper as a writer, handled distribution and publishing and later became its editor until it was discontinued in 2003.

"Larry really helped us to appreciate the history that we have. Larry always had a way of bringing history to life. They weren't just dry facts, and they weren't just artifacts; he had a way of putting them in their context and helping us to go back in time almost," said Monsignor Frank Puddister, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.         

Dohey contributed in many different roles to the Monitor, a church-run paper that stopped running in 2003. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Puddister said the church points to Dohey for the bringing together and the success of the upkeep of its archives.

"I think this collection, this museum, and the archives, really — for us, the archives especially — is his achievement and his legacy to us," he said. 

Deeper appreciation

Greg Walsh remembers Dohey as spending most of his career, and much of his free time in two buildings — one being the Basilica, the other being The Rooms. The buildings are neighbours, situated on opposite corners of Bonaventure Avenue.

"In all the tributes and accolades that I've seen today the common denominator is his kindness, his generosity with his time and his passion of history. He really personified what we all try to do here at The Rooms, which is not only manage the province's collections, but get them out in use," said Walsh, provincial archivist for Newfoundland and Labrador and director of archives with The Rooms.

Flags fly at half-mast outside of The Rooms in honour of Larry Dohey. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Walsh said Dohey brought all things Newfoundland and Labrador to a vast swathe of people, and believes those who have interacted with Dohey have left with a deeper appreciation for the history. 

"He loved to meet people, greet people, shake hands," Walsh said.

"He really stayed in tune with local heritage, local attractions, and I have no doubt that there will be a huge outpouring of tributes, prayers and thanks for a life well lived."

Dohey's obituary has been posted to the Caul's Funeral Home website.

He will rest at Caul's on LeMarchant Road on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. 

Mass of Christian Burial will follow at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist on Military Road on Monday at 1 p.m.

"Larry loved his work, which he saw as a celebration of everything of Newfoundland and Labrador. He brought enthusiasm and energy to everything he did. He approached 8 a.m. Monday morning and 5 p.m. Friday with equal amounts of joy. He believed in the love of family and friends, hard work, the importance of fun and the power of yes."

Take a listen to a 2013 episode of The Confessional, hosted by Krissy Holmes. Larry Dohey talks about the time he pretended to be a paramedic to sneak into a Tina Turner concert.

Larry Dohey reveals how he got into a Tina Turner concert in St. John's. Mary Gale of Toronto explains why she hid her true identity for almost 70 years, and Dave Hingsburger tells us how a it took a three-year-old girl to show him his true colours.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show, On The Go and Peter Cowan