“Downtown Dan” Doty visits with his sister, Sheri Mitchell, of Okay, Okla., on Friday for the first time in 20 years. - Jim Craven

Family reunion for 'Downtown Dan'

"Danny! Danny!" said the voice, squeaking oddly from behind the hedge lining Sears' parking lot.

"I thought it was some crazy woman yelling at me," Doty said. "But I was familiar with the voice."

Through the hedge stepped Sheri Mitchell, instigating their first brother-sister meeting in two decades, years in which Doty became one of Medford's most recognized residents without his family's knowledge.

Contacted in Oklahoma this spring by the Mail Tribune for a profile on the 48-year-old Doty, Mitchell made good Thursday on her promise to visit her brother, who has been estranged from the family since he was institutionalized as a child.

Shipped to Medford from the Oregon State Hospital in 1982, this cheery panhandler — who seems to know everyone but can't remember his own past — has become the adopted son of downtown Medford who daily battles the remnants of his private fight over mental illness and a severe childhood brain injury he suffered when he was run over by a truck.

The Danny whom Mitchell discovered Thursday may be a bit grizzled and unkempt. His eyes, ravaged by diabetes and years of hospital sedation, may not recognize his 45-year-old sister at 20 paces.

But he's still the same Danny whom Mitchell said she's always loved, despite remaining two time zones apart all these years.

"Getting to see Danny gave me one of the best days I've had in a long, long time," Mitchell said after their three-hour meeting. "It's been so long that I was afraid I'd never see him again.

"This is awesome."

It was also quite unexpected and somewhat impromptu.

Mitchell and her boyfriend, Carl Powell, are independent freight haulers who delivered a trailer in Coburg Tuesday. While there, they decided to spend the rest of their off-day to find Doty.

"With the price of gas, I'm surprised anyone would do that," Doty said. "But, evidently, they decided to. At least it was a diesel truck. Diesel costs less.

"Not too many people I know would do that," he said. "But, if they feel I'm worth it, I'm OK with that."

Known by everyone from Medford's movers and shakers to its homeless, Doty has cut a very public figure for himself around town.

He walks about 15 miles a day, bumming cigarettes and money from those about whom he remembers every past conversation in excruciating detail. Yet his mental makeup is such that he cannot regularly remember huge swaths of his past without help.

But he always remembered Mitchell.

"She's the only other kid I ever got along with," Doty said.

When reaching town unannounced Thursday, Mitchell and Powell scoured the streets and destinations outlined in the Mail Tribune's article.

"We stopped and talked to everybody we saw," Mitchell said, "and only one person didn't know Dan."

About 8:30 p.m., they crossed paths with Doty, who was en route to Circuit City to replace his omnipresent headphones.

"That was quite unexpected," Doty said. "I'm surprised they found me at all."

The trio eventually headed to Dairy Queen, where the toothless Doty gummed his way through two double-cheeseburgers before Mitchell and Powell headed to Idaho to pick up a trailer Friday.

"We got to reminisce about old times," Doty said. "We had a good visit."

Mitchell said she plans to return the next time she's near Medford. Doty also was looking forward to a possible visit from his mother and stepfather this summer.

"I don't get to see family that often," he said.

Doty, who also is a walking music dictionary, never did make it to Circuit City on Thursday. So Powell rummaged through his truck and found a set of headphones for him.

"I don't really know him, so him giving me those was nice," Doty said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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