Photo by: U of R Photography Department
In spite of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago, the soft-spoken dynamo has been active all his life. Docherty, or Doc as his friends call him, has earned three degrees from the University of Regina-physical geography (SIFC, 1993), human justice (1995) and master's of social work (2003). He is contemplating a fourth.
Docherty has worked as a front-line youth worker, pursued athletic competitions throughout the world and owned a local music club. He is a founding Board member of one of Regina's most effective non-profit organizations, Street Culture Kidz, and has mentored countless marginalized youth. Docherty also worked in Northern Ireland, where he witnessed the landmark signing of ceasefire agreements in 1994.
He wryly refers to himself as Forrest Gump. But unlike the fictional character who witnessed key twentieth century events, Docherty is well aware of the vagaries of existence. He smiles, "I ended up in all these places, but sometimes thought I don't have any right being there."
The Regina-born and -raised native has recently returned from the Maritimes to assume the directorship of Dales House. Dales House works with youth aged 12-15. Docherty explains, "There's not a typical client. They can be victims of the sex trade, they could be used as drug mules for gangs, and they could be runaways. They're victims of their homes; they're victims of the street. They're in need of protection and that's our function."
Since 1983, Docherty has worked at several youth facilities, including the Paul Dojack Youth Centre and Dales House. Kim Sutherland, the director of Street Culture Kidz and a close friend for many years, says, "I don't think Doc realizes the impact that he has. I see it all the time. A young person comes up to him who was in Dales House 15 years ago, and they'll talk to Doc about the impact that he had.
"Doc's so genuine in his interest. He's formally educated, but he has his finger on the pulse of the grassroots. He's a visionary who is capable of moving the vision forward, which is rare. I can't wait until he gets his PhD, so we can call him Doc Doc."
Docherty is currently in discussions with First Nations University of Canada to do an interdisciplinary doctorate, focussing on the systemic discrimination he has witnessed over the years. "It's not necessarily deliberate, but systems have a way of capturing our most marginalized. In this province it's pretty easy to see the over-representation of First Nations folks in our social and justice systems."
The epitome of a well-rounded individual, Docherty is also a life-long athlete. He trained and competed in a range of sports including rugby, team handball, lacrosse and triathlon throughout Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, France and Ireland. Shortly after starting his first job as a youth worker, he became interested in competing in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. "I was watching it on TV, and I said to my buddy, ‘I can do that.' He just laughed at me."
In spite of his lack of experience, Docherty qualified for the 1985 World Triathlon Championship in Hawaii. "Tropical Storm Fifi was causing huge swells. The extreme heat and the crazy distances back-to-back, I thought that was normal. It's the Ironman; it's got to be kooky." And if that wasn't enough, "The native Hawaiians in the early days weren't happy with the attention the event caused. I didn't know this until I got home and watched it on Wide World of Sports, but they ‘chummed' the water to attract sharks."
Docherty managed to finish in the middle of the pack of 400 athletes. "I was physically broken, but in '86 and '87 I did better. I discovered a great deal about physical capacity and my own thresholds. You learn a lot when you're suffering and you need to keep going and you're the only one you have to answer to."
Not content just to work, compete in triathlons and take university classes, Docherty somehow found time to renovate an old garage in Regina's Warehouse District and turn it into a music club. As co-owner of the Venue (now the Distrikt), Docherty played host to many up-and-coming bands, including 54-40, Cowboy Junkies and The Tragically Hip on their first Canadian tour. "I would contact the promoters and offer the best we could-The Hip got $467 to play here their first time through the city."
During his stint as an impresario, Docherty met his long-time friend, Mike Campbell, then co-host of MuchMusic's Mike and Mike's Excellent Cross-Canada Adventure. Campbell says, "Doc's a lot of fun. He was always very eager to help us find stories that showed his community off in the best light.
"I was always very humbled by his dedication to his work," says Campbell." I've seen him on vacation, and he'll spot some kid on the street and go over to help him out. He always put the welfare of kids ahead of everything."
In the mid '90s, Docherty worked at the Pat Finucane Centre in the North of Ireland as part of his practicum for his degree in Human Justice. "We helped people who were arrested without trial or legal defence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They were essentially political prisoners, and could be held without bail, without charge, without lawyers for an indeterminate time. It could be years. So we drew attention to their plight by working with organizations like Amnesty International."
Docherty, who sat on the Bloody Sunday Organizing Committee, remembers the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, speaking at a commemoration of Bloody Sunday to 30,000 onlookers. "We'd painted Free Derry Corner white from its previous red, the day before. We had used water-soluble paint and when it rained the red bled through, and Adams said, ‘The monument is showing us the blood of the victims.'" Docherty eventually witnessed the initial IRA and Loyalist ceasefire agreements coming off the fax machine at the Pat Finucane Centre. "Just holding the agreements was daunting knowing that you are a part of something truly historic."
For someone who had reached daunting physical challenges head-on, he wasn't prepared for what ultimately was going to be the greatest physical challenge in his life. The first warning that something was wrong came to him when he was cycling to Lumsden and his leg began to burn and buckled. His neurologist confirmed that it was MS.
Docherty said to his neurologist, "Okay, let's go. What do I do first? What do we do?" He looked at me and paused and then he said, "We don't know why you have this. There's no cure."
Docherty smiles, "Okay, there's no cause and no cure. For me, that doesn't fly. I looked around and I tried everything, every wacky alternative treatment you could imagine, from being stung by bees to magnet vests. I went on Betaseron for five years and suffered flu symptoms every day. So I just withdrew and considered what I could do instead."
He found that a regimen of swimming, his least favourite triathlon stage, was critical in helping him manage the disease. At least four times a week Docherty swims laps to find a sense of freedom and normalcy. "It doesn't keep it in check, but it keeps me happy. It's joyful to be in the water."
Docherty typically swims laps at the Regina YMCA, and then goes to lunch at the Street Culture Café in the Y's east wing. The café has a bright, retro look and offers healthy homemade fare. Several guitars are mounted on the wall; a patron takes one down and plays quietly. The café, a Street Culture Kidz project, is staffed by youth and offers them the opportunity to participate in non-threatening, purposeful work.
"It's a no-reject, no-eject program," Docherty says. "The programs that kick you out after one transgression don't work. When kids are exiting gangs or have addiction issues, they need more than one chance. They've been abandoned; they've been abused. Of course they're testing-are you going to be another adult who turns their back? Street Culture Kidz says no, we are not."
Teena Singh BA'07 (Justice) is a former student of Docherty's and now works for Street Culture. She sits at the counter reading. "Anytime I think of Mark," she says, "I see him inspiring people. He motivates you to do everything you can in life. Because he's done so much, you feel you can, too."
What next for the man who's done more than most? Docherty smiles as he drinks his coffee, contented amid the cheerful noon-hour bustle. "I'm looking forward to pushing social issues and advocating for marginalized youth. Does it ever get easier? Yes, I think everyone wants to do the right thing; they fundamentally want to do something well. Sometimes you just have to remind them of that."
David Sealy lives, works and writes in Regina.