Sean Kirst: A veteran who kept on serving long after he left the Army - The Buffalo News

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Sean Kirst: A veteran who kept on serving long after he left the Army

Deidra Patterson went downtown Friday to buy flowers for Ranney Dozier, on his birthday. Going back to childhood, when she needed comfort, he was always there. He is still only a few blocks away from her Loring Avenue home, and Deidra knows exactly where to find him.

She drops to her knees before his tombstone at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

"He'd do anything for me," she said. "He taught me to tie my shoes."

Ranney is buried in a veterans section at Forest Lawn. I met Deidra there by sheer chance on a beautiful autumn day, when she walked alone through rows of look-alike tombstones to leave some flowers for Ranney. As she approached, it was impossible to miss the way the sun glinted off a tear that ran along her face.

Seven years ago, when Ranney was 88, a strong wind knocked him down while he was holding the door for others at his church. He died that day at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a place of great meaning in his life, after suffering a stroke.

Holding the church door was emblematic, one final act of service.

Seven years after his death, Deidra, 43, feels his influence more powerfully than ever.

Ask around, she told me, after she knelt by his grave. You'll discover he had a similar impact on many lives.

I went back to the newsroom and called Carol Dozier, 70, Ranney's only daughter, a retired career counselor in Buffalo.

It was fitting that I called, she said, in time for Veterans Day.

Ranney Dozier, in the U.S. Army, World War II. (Family photo)

Ranney was from South Carolina, the grandson of a man born into slavery. He grew up farming a piece of land his family owned since just after the end of Civil War. During World War II, Ranney served with a segregated unit in the U.S. Army, helping to build the famed Stilwell Road through the jungles of Burma.

More than 1,000 men lost their lives from combat, disease or accidents during the construction. It was a crucible, a defining point for Ranney.

"My dad always identified with being a veteran," Carol said. "It's who he was. It shaped his life."

He believed in discipline, in hard work.

"He used to say, if you have a job to do, get it done and get it over with," said Carol, an ethic learned on the farm then reinforced in the Army.

Once the war ended, he took a job at the old Pratt & Letchworth plant in Buffalo. After that operation shut down, Ranney eventually moved over to work in housekeeping at the VA hospital.

It was the last job he held, before retiring. The place became a second home. The VA is where he spent the final hours of his life.

To the best of Carol's memory, her father didn't call in sick for a single day of work.

"He never missed," she said. "Ever."

Ranney Dozier and his daughter Carol. (Family photo)

She grew up in Lancaster with her brothers, Ronald and Derrick. That community gave Ranney room enough for a real garden, something to remind him of the farm in South Carolina. He placed great emphasis on studying, on education. All three of his children became college graduates.

Carol's parents, who married young, later divorced. Ranney didn't move back into Buffalo until he was older and he began to struggle with his health.

Nothing really slowed him down, Carol said. In 2006, a family friend was hospitalized. Ranney agreed to care for the friend's dog until she was well enough to go home. Every day, he made regular stops at her house.

That was the year of the "October Surprise," the early snowstorm that broke trees and snapped wires and paralyzed the city.

Ranney was 85.

"In all that, he walked from Olympic Avenue to Best Street to feed that dog," Carol said.

If you met her father, she said, you didn't forget him. He typically wore distinctive straw hats. He was restless, perpetually busy, a guy who struggled to sit still. He worked his day job then went to a second job at night, often pressing clothes at a dry cleaner's.

For years, he was an usher at Calvary Baptist Church, where he kept his eye on children who watched the services from the balcony. He loved his garden, especially his roses.

If you crossed his path, you didn't stay a stranger for long.

Grave of Ranney Dozier, Forest Lawn Cemetery. (Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News)

That's what brought Deidra Patterson to his grave. She was a little child, maybe 6 or 7, when she met Ranney. Daveda Patterson, her sister, said their family had been burned out of their house. Their mother rented a home from Ranney in Buffalo.

None of the children had met a landlord quite like this.

"He brought me to church," Deidra said. "He's the one who taught me not to fall into drugs or the street."

She remembered Ranney buying groceries for her family. She remembered how he'd bring her with him to visit the staff at the VA, how a group of nurses took her shopping for clothes at a point when she had nothing.

Deidra barely knew her own father. Ranney, she said, made her understand what that role means.

When she struggles, when she worries, she still seeks him out.

Carol Dozier hadn't known about that routine, how Deidra often makes her way to the veterans section at Forest Lawn.

To Carol, it is an ultimate statement on the way her father chose to live his life.

"Seven years later," she said, "I'm thrilled someone's kneeling at his grave."

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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