Will Hill had thought hard about how to salute the slain community activist.
Yesterday, with the moist eyes of a man who had lost his best friend, Hill walked slowly down the church aisle. Imitating the church elder holding a Bible aloft two steps ahead in the procession, Hill raised both hands high, solemnly elevating a bright orange baseball cap.
Dennis Dolinger, founder of the orange hat patrol in his Capitol Hill neighborhood, would have gotten a kick out of the gesture. He loved St. Augustine Catholic Church, and he appreciated such cheeky little improvisations on orthodox ritual. But Hill couldn't use Dolinger's own orange hat for the tribute.
Dolinger's cap was back in his row house, coated with fingerprint dust left by police hunting for the person who stabbed him to death June 4.
A suspect, Steven Craig Watson, 44, of Alexandria, was charged Thursday in the crime.
The memorial Mass for Dolinger yesterday drew 150 friends and relatives and a couple of pews full of politicos, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), former mayor Marion Barry, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6). The officials lauded the outspoken advisory neighborhood commissioner as a symbol of local democracy at its finest.
The human dimensions of the man, who was 51 when he died, came through in more casual reminiscences -- and in the talismans that people brought, the scraps of his life. Such as the hat, which remained on the altar during the two-hour service. And the coveted recipe for Dolinger's famous sausage and potato casserole, which circulated in printed form around the church. Jonathan Bush pulled his carefully folded copy from his suit coat pocket. The directions didn't look remarkable.
Precisely, Bush said.
"All of his recipes put very simple things together to create wonderful complexities," he said. "And that's just what he was like, too."
Notice one other thing about the recipe, Bush added. It's very specific about all the ingredients, except one, listed simply as "Italian dressing."
Dolinger, who whipped up his own dressing, wasn't about to commit all his secrets to paper.
As an activist, Dolinger's primary passion was chasing crime from his neighborhood on the edge of Capitol Hill. His orange hat group was ubiquitous, and he fiercely challenged authorities to clean up nuisance properties. He was especially pained by the plight of senior citizens on some blocks who could not go outside for fear of the drug dealers, who -- between sales -- stashed their products among the residents' shrubs and flowers.
One of the first things Kim C. Dine did when he was named police commander of the 1st District last year was visit Dolinger's home on Potomac Avenue SE to talk. This month, Dine sadly sent his homicide detectives to the same address, and yesterday, he was in his place at the church.
Dolinger sometimes was harassed by drug dealers, according to neighbors, but some believe that the person who killed him was someone Dolinger knew and perhaps trusted. Dine would not confirm that yesterday. He said police would have no comment on possible motives until the investigation was complete.
Such plodding official caution would have irked Dolinger. Hill remembered times when he had to cool down his sharp-tongued friend.
"Dennis would say, `I don't think the police are doing this, that or the other. . . . I'm going to the press,' " Hill said. "I'd say, `Dennis, the police may be doing more in the neighborhood than you think. Give 'em a chance.' "
Just two weeks before he died, Dolinger retired from his position as budget analyst for Metro. That was going to free him up to do even more in the neighborhood. He could attend zoning and liquor board hearings during the day and appear at more D.C. Council meetings. He could really keep after officials.
Dolinger's other passion was being a good neighbor, another quality that sounds simple but is not. When Safeway had ribs on sale for 99 cents a pound, he'd buy more than he needed and take a few racks to an elderly woman who lived nearby.
He'd throw big dinners for his friends in the neighborhood, or his friends in the church, or both. He did all the cooking.
He'd sit on his porch, drinking coffee and wave to passersby. Neighbors said there was a coffee cup on the porch after the slaying -- a clue, they said, that he may have gone inside with the killer, intending to come right back out.
He'd sweep up the sidewalk, and he took the lead in cutting the grass and planting shrubs in the little triangular park on his block.
"I saw him over in the park digging holes," recalled Larry Irby. "I said, `Dennis, you shouldn't be doing that; the city should.' He said, `Well, they're not here. Now give me some help.' "
Last week, the council named the slice of green Dennis Dolinger Memorial Park.
Back on the block yesterday, robins splashed in the bird bath that Dolinger put out front. His garden -- blossoms of red and yellow and purple -- was the best on the street.
Dolinger had spent a lot of time working on his house, planning to spend a long time there, according to his friend and neighbor, Ms. Rucker, who did not want her full name published. "We both said we weren't moving out of these houses until we die," she said.
His ashes are to be buried at Congressional Cemetery, where he paid for a plot, according to friends. He told them that they'd better buy now because prices would be going up soon. Prices of all types of real estate are rising in the city. And he loved the city.
CAPTION: Mayor Anthony A. Williams, left, predecessor Marion Barry and Will Hill pray during services for activist Dennis Dolinger.
CAPTION: Will Hill carries an orange baseball cap out of a Capitol Hill church after the funeral of neighborhood activist Dennis Dolinger, founder of the anti-crime orange hat patrol.