November 5, 2005
It has been 10 years since Kate Brownback had the opportunity to honor her father with a trumpet solo.
On Friday, she will play a tribute to the distinguished military service of the late Air Force Lt. Col. Paul G. Dougherty. Brownback is also paying her respects to other military families by closing the annual Veterans Day ceremony with the haunting strains of “Taps.”
She will stand alone on the hillside above Overlook Memorial Park in downtown Hood River to play the traditional farewell. But Brownback believes that the spirit of her father will be close by during those brief moments of crystalline sound.
She plans to pay her respects to him and Hood River County’s military families through the 24 eloquent notes that have served as a Last Post for soldiers since 1885.
As an added touch of nostalgia, Brownback will be holding the trumpet that her father bought many years ago to encourage her talent.
She held the same horn during the last of her performances that her dad would ever see. At that Christmas church program, the highly disciplined West Point graduate paid her the greatest compliment of a lifetime. He stood in total silence while the choir sang around him just to listen to her harmony. Dougherty had not heard his youngest daughter play since she left for college 12 years earlier to study music.
“When I left home it became a standing thing for him to end our conversations with ‘Hit High C Kate’ and me answering, ‘I will Dad.’ But he just hadn’t heard me play for years,” she said.
A few months later, the retired Air Force officer died unexpectedly in Boise, Idaho. Brownback still gets tearful at how pleased he was with her exemplary exhibition during their shared concert.
“The last time that I played for Dad it was magical. I don’t know if it was just that my heart was in the right place, but I played beautifully. It was so clean and I didn’t miss a note,” she said.
Brownback hopes her performance next week is just as flawless (program details in Nov. 9 News issue) But the trumpeter has every reason to believe it will be since she is no stranger to the stage. She is an active member of the Columbia Gorge Sinfonietta and has played for military funerals and other special events since her teenage years.
These days, the 40-year-old mother of two preschoolers does find that practice time is more difficult to come by. In addition to parenting Keeley, 4, and Tanner, 2, with husband, Bob, she is employed full-time as a building inspector for Hood River County.
However, Brownback takes advantage of every available opportunity to hone her skills on the instrument that her father once placed in her care.
“Dad was very proud when I played at military events. Nothing was more meaningful to him than music that involved our country,” she said.
Brownback gained her love of music from her father, an aeronautical engineer, and her mother, Patricia, who holds a doctorate in religious counseling. She also learned from them about the importance of teamwork in a family with eight children.
Every day, Brownback and her siblings were drilled in lessons on self-discipline, responsibility and accountability.
She believes these teachings have enabled her to be a better parent and role model today.
“My dad loved his country and was decorated for his combat service as a pilot in Vietnam. But he was, above all else, a family man,” said Brownback. “He was proud of us and he wanted us to succeed.”
But life in a military household was also extremely rigid and inflexible at times, according to Brownback.
The Doughertys lived near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio for the first 13 years of her life. Then her father transferred to Boise where he served as Civil Air Patrol liaison. Eventually, he would retire from 28 years in the Air Force to take on the same job as a state official. Although he gave up career opportunities to avoid uprooting his family any more than necessary, Brownback said few other concessions were made in their daily routine.
But, no matter where home was, the Dougherty household ran with military precision. Brownback remembers being woken up at dawn to stand at attention, along with her sister and six brothers, for failure to complete some chore.
“He once told me that, as a parent, one of the hardest things was to say ‘no’ when he wanted to say ‘yes’,” said Brownback. “He also made sure that we knew that he wasn’t here to be our friend. And it didn’t matter how we felt about what we were asked to do, we just needed to do what we were told.”
She admits that living with a career-military father was often frustrating. It was her more easy-going mother, said Brownback, who softened his harshness. But both parents made it clear that there was no getting around the rules.
“They believed that anyone could achieve anything and they pushed us to reach that expectation,” she said. “Dad would tell us that some behavior might be fine for everyone else but we were Doughertys and he expected more from us.”
She said equal credit for the successful rearing of a small troupe of children lies with her mother. Brownback said military wives do not receive enough recognition for “holding down the fort” single-handedly while their soldier is away.
“My mother had eight children under the age of 10 and my father was gone to Vietnam for one year. I don’t know how she did it in an era when there were no microwaves and useful plastic diapers,” she said.
Although the Dougherty family adhered to strict rules of conduct, Brownback said her father also went out of his way to ensure that they had recreational opportunities.
For example, one day he decided that his brood would benefit from a sandbox in the backyard. So, he ordered a dump truck load of sand — in spite of the company’s protest that it would be way too much material for the project.
When the shipment finally arrived, the driver quickly changed his tune. One load of sand was clearly not going to be enough for the sandbox frame that measured 24-feet long by 24-feet wide. Her father was then told that there wasn’t going to be enough sand to fill the container.
“He said, ‘I know but it is what I could afford so I figure if you dump it in one big pile in the middle then they can have fun spreading it out,’” said Brownback.
Eventually, there would be five more shipments of sand over the next several years. But Brownback said the box was never fully filled because she and her siblings trailed it through the house on their clothing.
Brownback found artistic release from her disciplined daily schedule through the powerful voice of her trumpet. She willingly woke early on Saturday mornings for lessons. She walked miles in the severe cold of a Boise winter on several occasions to receive instruction.
As she has grown older in life, Brownback has realized the value of her tough childhood. She and the rest of the Dougherty clan have all been successful in their life choices because they have learned how to set and achieve goals.
On Nov. 11, Brownback will, figuratively, “hit high C” one more time to thank her mother and father – and to honor military families everywhere.