Interview by Hannah Sprouse
Rita Doherty is passionate about helping seniors, travel, and grounding herself with nature. As a child, Rita fondly recalls spending time with her grandfather, visiting the residents at Friendship Village of Dublin. Now, as the Executive Director of Friendship Village of Dublin – central Ohio’s largest Life Care community – she is motivated by her relationships with her residents each and every day.
A Columbus native, what is it about the city that endears you to it the most? I’m a Columbus native through and through. Most of my family is from here and I grew up going to Dublin City Schools. Even when I’ve lived and worked in other cities — from Washington to Delaware — I’ve always considered Columbus home. It has an energy unlike anywhere else; humble and home-y, yet thriving with life and opportunity.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I’ve always had strong relationships with my family, and it’s what inspired me to pursue a career with the mission of helping seniors experience the highest quality of life. After high school, I earned a bachelor’s degree in health services and long-term care administration from Ohio University. Then, I started working for my current employer Life Care Services, a company dedicated to helping retirement communities thrive through responsible business management. Over the years, I worked in a variety of roles at different independent and assisted living communities, while pursuing an advanced degree in nursing from Mount Carmel College of Nursing.
Tell us about your current career role: I’m currently the executive director of Friendship Village of Dublin, central Ohio’s largest Life Care community, meaning we take care of our residents physically and financially for the rest of their lives. I wear a lot of hats overseeing operations, finance, clinical care, hospitality and more. Fortunately, I work with a brilliant team who works hard to deliver on our promises to residents. It’s a demanding job, but by far the most rewarding.
What’s new and exciting at Friendship Village of Dublin? If you’ve driven down Riverside Drive over the past few years, you probably already know the answer to this question. The setting is beautiful and we’re undergoing a massive $75 million facility expansion, which will further deliver the highest-quality services and amenities to our residents and their families.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? Honestly, I love my job. I’m motivated by my relationships with residents — even when I’m feeling tired or overwhelmed. I really feel blessed to have the opportunity to do such meaningful work and serve so many wonderful people.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve been incredibly lucky to find mentors who’ve helped me navigate career challenges and encouraged me to take risks along the way. That being said, it’s not necessarily their advice, but their actions that have really stuck with me. Over the years, I’ve seen how their kindness, hard work and smarts have made all the difference in both their careers and their personal lives. So, I think the best advice I’ve ever been given is to “practice what you preach” — even if they’ve never said that to me explicitly.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? I love to travel, so I always have a getaway planned somewhere on my calendar. This really helps me keep my head up when the boundaries between work and life start to blur. There’s nothing like going somewhere completely new to reset your mind. Plus, I can always find comfort in the photos/memories of past vacations when I’m caught up in the hustle and bustle of the work week.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? My family has a farm in north-east Pennsylvania, and I try to go there whenever I can. There’s something about it that really allows me to ground myself and connect with nature. Plus, I get to spend time with my family, which always leaves me laughing.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? Believe it or not, I’ve always wanted to work in senior living (and at Friendship Village of Dublin)! I grew up just a short walk from the campus and first visited when I was only four. My grandfather would pick me up, and we’d spend the afternoon visiting his friends in the community. As a student at Riverside Elementary, I have vivid memories of watching Friendship Village of Dublin in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and delivering hand-made crafts to residents in the health center. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community because it was such a big part of my childhood!
If you could have a superpower, what would you choose? I’d love to fly. Think how much shorter my commute would be!
What would your autobiography be called? I think I’d call it, “Enjoy the Ride.” Life is full of ups and downs, but as I’m getting older, I’m realizing it’s not about where you’re going, but how you’re getting there.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus? I always recommend Franklin Park Conservatory to people new to the area. When it’s warm out, you can enjoy its gorgeous gardens. When there’s snow on the ground, you can bask in its plant life (while reminding yourself that spring is right around the corner!). I also recommend North Market. Where else can you get Jeni’s, Indian food and a bottle of wine all under one roof?
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. I’m super passionate about Age-Friendly Columbus. Most people don’t realize that Central Ohio’s 65+ population is expected to double in the next 35 years — completely disproportionate to the incremental increase projected for other age demographics. Because of this, our community needs infrastructure to accommodate this aging generation, while helping them age safely. By working with the World Health Organization and AARP’s Livable Communities guidelines, Age-Friendly Columbus is working to make a variety of things more senior friendly in Columbus, including outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, emergency preparedness, inclusion, employment, communication and health services.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? If I were to define the “pulse” of Columbus in one word, it would be community. Everywhere you look someone is building a space for people of diverse interests to gather and connect. I know from working in a retirement community the power that building social connection has — it can completely change someone’s quality of life. It’s this “community building” mindset that makes me really optimistic about our city’s future and really proud to call Columbus home.