Integrity. That's the word that comes to mind when friends think about Retha Dooley.
She was a compassionate listener who told her own story of addiction, recovery and family reconciliation countless times across Minnesota in hopes it would help others with their own sobriety.
Dooley, who died Sept. 22 at age 74, was the first woman to join the board of directors at the Alano Society of Minneapolis, said to be the longest-running Alano society operating in the same location. She later became the board chair, was a featured Alcoholics Anonymous speaker throughout the state and a trainer at the Minnesota Recovery Connection.
"She's helped a lot of people," said her friend Tom K., who recalled meeting Dooley when he walked into his first AA meeting in 1983.
She taught him that it was "cool and OK" to be sober, he said — and talked to him on the phone almost every day during the early part of his recovery.
"She talked me through some really tough times. And she did that for decades, for she had almost 45 years of sobriety," he said. "She had a wonderful, amazing story about her recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. And a lot of people needed to hear it. She gave people a lot of hope."
Dooley was born in 1948 to John and Ima Lee Dooley in Minneapolis. She later received a degree in respiratory therapy at Lakewood College in White Bear Lake.
As the longtime manager of Rolling Soles on Lake Street, Dooley was an early adopter of the outdoor rollerskating trend and part of a community that pushed back against calls to ban skating around Minneapolis' lakes in the 1980s. The group ultimately worked with the park board, which created one-way paths and let skating continue.
"She was just a wonderful woman, and she had a lust for life," said her friend Scott Sansby, who owned Rolling Soles, which sold and rented outdoor rollerskates.
Dooley began working there in 1979, when the idea of putting skateboard wheels on rollerskates and taking to the streets and paths around the lakes was new. She managed the spot until it closed in 1998.
Sansby and Dooley drove a skate party bus decorated to look like a London double-decker to events like all-night rollerskating parties, Sansby recalled.
In her 60s, after moving to Sauk Centre, Minn., Dooley took up the cello, taking lessons and playing in coffee shops with her teacher.
In her last year, even as she went through treatment for lymphoma, Dooley was always optimistic, friends said — making plans to get together, running AA meetings on Zoom when she could no longer be there in person and serving as a consultant for the nonprofit Wellness in the Woods.
She is survived by her brothers, Mike Dooley of Linwood and Sean Dooley of Albuquerque, N.M.; children Shannon Bernstrom and Bryan Bernstrom, both of St. Paul, as well as several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A celebration of life service for Dooley is set for Sunday, Oct. 30 at 3 p.m. at the Alano Society of Minneapolis, 2218 1st Av. S.