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Riderwood Resident Goes Beyond Panda Cam at National Zoo

SILVER SPRING, MD—When she was a young girl visiting her grandparents’ house in the Catskill Mountains of New York, Marilyn Doherty was warned about rattlesnakes.

Decades later, she would help to hold a 19-foot, 20-year old anaconda as part of her duties at the National Zoo.

Ms. Doherty, 84, is a resident of Riderwood, the Erickson Living retirement community in Silver Spring.
Her days are filled with volunteer activities, but her bi-weekly visits to the Reptile Discovery Center expose her sense of adventure.

She made a career as a middle school teacher in Long Island, New York, and raised a family with her beloved husband, John.

To be closer to their
children later in life, the couple moved to northern Virginia in 1995.  “I was a total stranger,” described Ms. Doherty.  “I was relatively unfamiliar with the area and had no acquaintances outside of my family.”

Yearning to be involved in the community, she scrolled through a newspaper and discovered a “volunteers wanted” ad for the National Zoo.  After responding, she was accepted, and then received a surprising assignment: the Reptile Discovery Center.

“I was definitely shocked, but intrigued at the same time,” stated Ms. Doherty.  “I had no idea about turtles and snakes.  After a crash course, and through experience and a sharp memory, I have learned a great deal.”

For eighteen years, Ms. Doherty has held those snakes, turtles and lizards while providing an overview of the Reptile Discovery Center to field trip groups and tourists. 

“The response is terrific.  Many of the children who take the tour can’t believe it,” laughed Ms. Doherty.  “But I really enjoy teaching, and volunteering at the National Zoo has added so much to my life.”

And it’s not the only place where she shares her time and talents.  She volunteers in Montgomery County with students at both Fairland Elementary School and Westover Elementary School and serves as a Eucharistic Minister at Resurrection Church in Burtonsville.

But it’s her adventures at the National Zoo that earned Ms. Doherty the nickname “Snake Lady” by her friends at Riderwood retirement community.  “It makes me laugh when I hear someone call me the ‘Snake Lady’ so I fondly answer to it,” she said.

“I watched the movie ‘Snakes on a Plane’ and enjoyed it,” noted Ms. Doherty.  “The public has a true fascination with reptiles and that makes my role at the National Zoo interesting.  I hope I can keep doing it for a long time.”
Laura L Thornton (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 11:48 AM
Wow - what a great story! Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

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