DOVER — In an opinion piece published in Foster’s Daily Democrat in 2017, Doris Grady wrote, “Be sure to attend meetings, follow the City Council and the School Board, note how your child is protected, but be involved and speak up in defense of all 4,000 students.”
Grady, a community stalwart for Dover children and their education, died Monday at age 96. She leaves a legacy through her 73-year career in education, including nearly 50 years at Dover schools.
Friends and former colleagues described Grady as an education watchdog, whose first priority was the city’s children and young adults, and then, at close second, its taxpayers.
Dover Mayor Karen Weston called Grady a “wonderful, wonderful lady” whom she “couldn’t say enough good about.”
“She had her fingers in everything, but her main priority was kids,” said Weston, whose mother attended college with Grady. Weston said she’d known Grady for her entire life, and the woman had become her mentor after her mother passed away.
Grady began her education career at 19 years old, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Biddeford, Maine. She’d graduated from Berwick Academy and continued her studies at the University of New Hampshire in 1943, where she finished with a degree in physical education and biology. In the 1970s, she received a master’s in junior high mathematical education from University of Maine, Gorham. Grady taught a variety of subjects at several Dover schools.
Grady told Foster’s in 2018 that teaching math to middle school students “was the greatest experience of my life.” She also taught biology and physical education throughout her career, and coached girls sports.
Grady retired from teaching in 1992, and was elected to the Dover School Board shortly thereafter, on which she served through 2016. She chose not to seek reelection after her 11th term expired, at age 92.
She was twice named Retired Teacher of the Year at the New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards Ceremony, in 2009 and 2018.
During a 2015 ceremony honoring Grady for her years of service on the Dover School Board, Chair Amanda Russell read from Grady’s initial job application to the Dover School District in 1944. Grady, then 19-years-old, accepted a starting salary of $1,430 as a biology teacher.
“Whenever you would talk to her about budgets and things like that, she said, ‘it’s the kids that count,’” Weston said. “Her focus has been 100% kids during her whole life as an educator and being on the School Board.”
Weston laughed that while visiting Grady Sunday, her health ailing, Grady discussed with Weston how she could be successfully reelected as mayor in November.
“She was a very feisty person,” Weston said. “Even though she was on the School Board, you would have thought she was the manager of the city, because she didn’t want any elected official to forget any part of the city. She was very proactive in talking about seniors, too, because she was there herself and concerned about affordability.”
Weston continued, “There was just something very special about Doris. No one will ever fill her shoes.”
In 2015, Grady took a stance to push back at what she saw as rising partisanship on the City Council and School Board. She addressed concerns that politics were impacting nonpartisan local decision-making. Grady was a frequent writer of letters to the editor, scrutinizing the school budgets and future of the Dover School District, even after her formal service had ended.
John O’Connor, Dover schools superintendent from 2004 to 2010, said while Grady could be “cantankerous and argumentative,” she was his favorite School Board member to work with.
“She truly wanted to make a difference in the educational community here in Dover,” O’Connor said. “She had the belief that the students should be receiving a class A education, and she held my feet to the fire on many, many occasions, when it was pointed out where we weren’t necessarily achieving class A. We might have been B or B+, but that wasn’t good enough for her.”
O’Connor said after talking through the issues and financials, “which always caused her some great concern,” Grady supported 98% of his requests as a superintendent. She was also a champion for alternative education routes, including the vocational program and the career and technical center, he noted.
In a social media post Tuesday, former School Board member Matt Mayberry called Grady a “dynamo.” They served on the board together and interacted through GOP politics, he said.
“She would take anyone to task if she thought you weren’t putting children and the taxpayers first,” Mayberry wrote. “Great lady. Sad day but what a great life lived.”
Russell on Tuesday called Grady an “honest” person who “didn’t pull punches.”
“She let everyone know exactly what she was thinking,” Russell said.
Russell recalled before she was first elected to the School Board in 2012, Grady invited her over to her home for a “quick conversation,” that turned out not to be quick at all.
“There was just so much information she had stored,” Russell said. “She gave 50-plus years to Dover schools, and she just didn’t stop. That’s dedication and certainly worthy of respect and admiration.”
Even after Grady’s departure from the School Board, Russell said she would receive emails from her every month or so pointing out decisions she either agreed or disagreed with.