Robert Dugal, 58

Fought the good fight for disability rights

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Robert G. Dugal, a lifelong resident of Oak Park died from COVID-19 at West Suburban Hospital on April 9, 2020. Born on June 1, 1961 in Evergreen Park to the late William J. Dugal Jr. and Jacqueline "Jackie" Barclay Brady Dugal, Bob attended Holmes School and attended Oak Park and River Forest High School where he was a member of the OPRF wrestling team. He graduated in 1979 and attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, earning a bachelor's degree in business management in 1984.

Bob suffered from Friederich's Ataxia, a progressively debilitating disease that attacks the muscles and nerves. Two of his siblings also had the disease and one died from it. He was confined to a wheelchair for his entire adult life. But it didn't slow him down. 

He was very active in the village, as a life member of the Democratic Party of Oak Park, a member of Senator Philip Rock election committee, and a state legislative aide. He was a member of the Oak Park Cultural Tourism Committee, a founding member of the Progress Center for Independent Living, co-chair of Day in Our Village, and member of the Friederich's Ataxia Foundation. He conducted an ADA compliance survey in all of the elementary schools in Oak Park, and coached girls softball and soccer teams. He founded the Oak Park Committee on the Disabled and was a longtime member of the committee. 

"He was a good man with a good heart," said his sister Kathy. He cared, she said, about the Frank Lloyd Wright house they grew up in, the village of Oak Park, and especially the rights of the disabled.

"He would plant flowers with my mom, help my dad with home repairs; he loved giving tickets to people who parked in handicapped parking spaces illegally."

Bob oversaw the curb cut program starting back in the early 1990s, which transformed village intersections for the wheelchair-bound. When we interviewed him in November of 1994, he was a one-man apostle for the Americans with Disabilities Act, organizing one-day challenges that raised awareness about the difficulties of navigating the local business districts. He was happy to provide his expertise for free, telling one merchant that the disabled vote with their pocketbooks, so accessibility was good business. "When it's fully accessible," Dugal told him, "let me know. I'll tell everybody."

"Educating the public," we wrote then, "is an ongoing process, but Bob Dugal does it with good humor. He shrugs off most of the indignities, such as the tendency of people to talk to his companion instead of directly to him. People know Dugal around town because he gets out a lot. Some, he says, are terrified because of what he represents, but he wants them to relax. He's there to help, not burden them. All he asks is that they return the favor."

He was always, it seemed, in good spirits, and he enjoyed a good laugh.

"He fought the good fight," Kathy said. "It didn't get him down. When it did, he picked himself up and kept going. He was stubborn and his stubbornness really helped him."

As his condition progressed, he gradually bowed out of activism, but he would still get out of the house as often as he could, even if just to sit on the porch.

When news of the coronavirus first appeared in January, Kathy, who works for the Cook County Department of Public Health was all over it. They disinfected the house and tried to protect him, but COVID-19 claimed him anyway. 

"If anything good can come of this," she said, "it will be if people take this disease more seriously."

A small group of 10 gathered at the cemetery on Tuesday for private interment, Rev. John McGivern, pastor of St. Edmund Church, presiding. "Bob would like that," Kathy said. Fr. McGivern came by in February at Bob's request to bless him on Ash Wednesday — and to share a laugh.

"He loved to laugh," Kathy said. "Even on bad days I could get him to laugh.

"I'm going to miss him a lot."

Bob Dugal is survived by his siblings; Jack (Karen) Dugal, James (Nancy and the late Cheryl) Dugal M.D., Mary Ellen Dugal Dwyer, Kathleen (Robyn Guest) Dugal, and Patricia (Timothy) Klein. He was the fun, caring uncle of Brian M.D., Michael, Jennifer N.P., and Kevin Dugal, William IV (Rebecca) Dugal M.D., and James II (Rebecca) Dugal, Patrick (Melissa Cahill) Dwyer, and Timothy Dwyer, and Kimberly Klein (Jack) Garavaglia and Katylin Klein R.N.; grand-uncle of Tyler Dwyer; and cousin and nephew of many. He was preceded in death by his brother Fr. Bill Dugal.

The family extends heartfelt thanks to Kelsie Hudson, who was a true brother to Bob, for his kindness and care over the past eight years. Bob could not have had the quality of life he had, without him. And to Kathleen Kephart for helping to care for Bob during the last seven months. 

Private interment was held at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. In lieu of flowers please make donations to the Friedreich's Ataxia Foundation.

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