Bud Doggett

Saturday, August 16, 2008

LEONARD B. "Bud" Doggett Jr., the parking lot tycoon and D.C. power broker who always had the best interests of the city at heart, probably wouldn't have liked us writing about him in this space -- he shunned publicity. But Mr. Doggett, who died Wednesday at the age of 87, exerted a powerful, mostly unseen and highly beneficial influence on the District during more than half a century. When he became president of what is now the Greater Washington Board of Trade in 1967, most businesses discriminated against minorities; Mr. Doggett urged his colleagues to accept diversity. He spearheaded projects that helped rejuvenate the city's downtown slums. City leaders advancing a worthy cause knew that they could count on Mr. Doggett. He would ask, "Are you sure that's all you need?" and end the conversation by saying, "The check is in the mail." Most recently, Mr. Doggett was a driving force behind the District's impressive Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Mr. Doggett's friends say that his concern for the city stemmed from his humble roots. He was born in 1920 and grew up in an Irish tenement in an area near Union Station that immigrants affectionately called "Swamppoodle." After serving in World War II, he went to work for his parents, who owned a small number of parking lots downtown. Mr. Doggett started out working as a valet, often babysitting jalopies filled with children while their parents took in a show. He eventually took over the parking lot business from his father and expanded aggressively, amassing a lucrative portfolio of real estate.

But Mr. Doggett's most lasting legacy will undoubtedly be Heroes, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1964 that supports families of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed on the job. "As a police officer with four kids of my own, I can't even put into words how important this program is," Patrick Burke, D.C. assistant police chief, told us. Heroes has given millions of dollars to the families of slain public servants and has helped put hundreds of children through college. Not bad for a self-described shanty Irishman from Swamppoodle.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company