July 17, 1925 – March 25, 2020
Born in Lincoln, NE
Resided in Lincoln, NE
Doris Lou (Quinn) Fagot
Doris Lou (Quinn) Fagot died in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 25, at the age of 94, having instructed her doctors a few days prior to stop trying to fix a body that wasn’t broken but had simply begun to wear out from more than nine decades of dancing, singing, art-making, care-giving, worrying, laughing, and always, always loving.
She was born an only child on July 17, 1925, to James L. Quinn and Gladys Maxine Duckworth. An adventurous redhead and a self-described “tom boy,” young Doris wore pants and climbed trees and played with bugs and bonded with animals and learned to love creative endeavours on her own. Late in life, she would recount the exact moment when—at 3 years old, upon seeing a sheer yellow silk scarf waving in the breeze, backlit by a flaxen sun and a cloud-streaked azure sky—she fell in love with color and texture and movement and the beauty of the natural world all around her. Throughout her lifetime, that passion would appear in hundreds, maybe thousands, of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and textiles that her family and friends now cherish but that to her could seldom hold a candle to the beauty she saw in her mind.
Doris came of age during World War II, and that freckle-faced tom boy with the scraggly ginger mop blossomed into … let’s just say it, shall we? … a swing-dancing, heels-wearing, lipstick-smacking bombshell. The USO became her second home. Six nights a week, servicemen from Lincoln Army Air Field would whirl her and twirl her in a Hollywood-esque montage of Chicken Walks and Charlestons to the real-life likes of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. One can only imagine how out of breath she must have already been when the handsome young navy man Ralph Fagot, with his piercing blue-green eyes and slick dark hair, appeared one night and stole what remained of the air in her lungs.
They were married in short order, on August 12, 1946, and it wouldn’t be long before their young family, including children Trudy Ann (Ed), Thomas Donald, and Christina Louise (Gary), settled on the plains of central Nebraska in North Platte. Doris held down many jobs to help support the family, from the county extension office to an insurance company to a local florist. She could type lightning fast, tie a mean florist bow, and even hosted a radio program.
The family settled into a new house on the west edge of town. Soon, a grocery store celebrating its opening threw a big party to give away a new car to a lucky customer. Doris, standing in the checkout line with a young Chris, doing her best to appear disinterested while straining to hear, was flabbergasted when her name was called. She turned to Chrissie, stunned, and exclaimed, “I won that damn car!” What a fun day they had tooling around town in that brand-new bright red convertible, and what fun they had toying with Ralph that evening, trying to convince him he had paid for it!
As her family grew, Doris began to spend more time on her artistic side, expressing her joy and sorrow and every emotion in between through oil paintings and watercolors that now decorate the walls of her children’s and grandchildren’s homes, a cherished story attached to each.
Ralph died in 1970, leaving Doris a young widow, and she soon found her way back to Lincoln, where her children had landed for school and her mother Max and her prankster stepfather, Don Utterson, still lived. Doris went back to school to earn a master’s degree in early childhood development, and with the whole family in college, Doris was the epitome of “cool mom.” She’d often socialize with “the kids,” and for the rest of her days she never grew tired of remembering that night, at a dimly lit college bar, that she got “carded” for ID over other students 20 years her junior, including her two oldest (and legal) children.
Doris flourished in her second career working with developmentally disabled young adults, with her natural ability to identify and foster the potential in people many others would disregard. She ran a program at the Nebraska State Capitol cafeteria that provided work opportunities, life skills training, and true independence to countless young people. And her research into children’s wheelchair use proved instrumental in helping to craft Nebraska’s response to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In retirement, Doris doubled down on her role as family caregiver. She helped her mother continue to live an independent life well into her 90s, she opened her home to her five grandchildren (all of whom attended college in Lincoln and three of whom lived with her for a spell), and she was a trusted sitter of the family’s furry companions. She fostered her own creative pursuits, as well. She dabbled in music composition and wrote a children’s book or two (never published). She researched her family history and was so proud to trace her roots back to pre-Revolutionary War America. And she continued painting and sculpting into her last year, even showing some of her pieces and snagging a bit of recognition in her late 80s.
Doris filled so many roles in her lifetime. Among the most endearing: She was a champion worrier most of her life. No joke, if you were more than 20 minutes late getting to wherever you were supposed to be, she had probably already called the Highway Patrol. That might seem rich coming from a woman who, in middle age, bought herself a Porsche and thoroughly wore it out. But that’s beside the point. The point is there’s a certain kind of love that only 17 missed calls on the caller ID can convey, and Doris offered that in spades to those she held dear.
In her old age, she said her proudest achievement in life, and her greatest work of art, was her loving, happy, crazy family, including 5 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. Doris’ voice was rarely the loudest at their gatherings, but her laugh nearly always was.
And in the last few years, when her world started to get a bit smaller each day, Doris’ three children were her rocks.
The eldest, Trudy, and her husband, Ed, helped Doris with her laundry and shopping and took her to church every Sunday at Southwood Lutheran Church (she loved seeing her friends there every week and enjoying the music and the message). Among the three of them, someone, at any given time, could almost always come up with a reason to go to Don & Millie’s for a snack and a 99-cent margarita.
Her middle child, Tom, made her whole decade when he moved back to Lincoln two years ago after many years on the East Coast. She looked forward to his visits, his no-bull demeanour, and his off-color jokes (which she’d often roll her eyes at but then repeat with a sly smile later). “Tommy” kept her kitchen stocked with whatever she wanted, almost always something “sweet and goopy,” because at 94 she’d certainly earned a little break from the diet every now and then.
And with her youngest, Chris, and her husband Gary, Doris had some epic shopping adventures! Whether it was a day at Gateway Mall or one of their frequent day trips to Omaha, Doris almost always came home with something pretty to show off, something tasty for her kitchen, and leftovers from a favorite lunch spot. Chris could be counted on to keep Doris’ calendar relentlessly up-to-date, and Chris and Gary’s dogs always became Doris’ adopted furbabies, especially when she could no longer have her own.
Losing some of her cherished independence was difficult for Doris in recent years, but, my, what lessons she leaves behind for us in acceptance and compassion and grace. When walking became difficult and a wheelchair became necessary, Doris evolved from regularly apologizing for being in the way to shuffling herself right up to the table and sharing advice on improving accessibility while she was out and about. When she began needing a little extra help with daily life and “had” to move to The Lexington Assisted Living Center, Doris evolved from lamenting her loss of freedom to cherishing relationships that were completely her own (she often referred to the staff and other residents as her “good friends” and “the girls”). And that worry she lived with so much of her life? Not a part of her nonagenarian experience. It gave way to trust. Trust in the family she had raised to take care of themselves and each other, trust in her caregivers to do their level best for her, and trust in God to see her through to the other side.
Doris had not a sliver of doubt as to where she was going next. In her final days, she was resolute. She simply wanted to say goodbye to all of her babies, which she did. To retreat inward and begin the focused and prayerful work of winding down her earthly life, which she did. And to die peacefully as an old lady warm in her bed surrounded by love, which she did.
Doris’ remains will be interred next to Ralph’s at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska.
A celebration of life, and we do mean celebration (“Don’t you dare wear black and play depressing music,” she implored us), will be held at a later date when we can all once again gather and eat and sing and dance and paint together.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Monarch Hospice, c/o Eastmont, 6315 O St., Lincoln, NE 68510.