Dolores “Dodie” Alexander, a longtime community leader and co-founder of the Community Health Awareness Council, died March 20 in Penn Valley. Mrs. Alexander was 88.
The mother of five children, the former Los Altos resident was the key force behind the formation of CHAC in 1973, a time when the drug culture was beginning to impact local schools. CHAC has grown into an influential nonprofit counseling organization that has served thousands of local students and parents over the course of its 46-year history.
Born in Vermont, Mrs. Alexander became a ward of the state as a small child. She attended an Episcopal girls school, Rock Point, in Burlington, where she was raised by the school’s head mistress. She went to a teacher’s college in Vermont and earned her teaching credential.
According to Mrs. Alexander’s son Richard, she met her future husband on the operating table. She had a medical procedure performed by U.S. Navy surgeon Dr. Richard Alexander. The two began a relationship that resulted in marriage just a year or so after the procedure.
The Alexanders made their way west from Vermont, relocating to San Mateo, then Sunnyvale and eventually Los Altos. Dr. Alexander became chief of the emergency department at El Camino Hospital, while Mrs. Alexander took on the challenge of raising five teenagers through the turbulent late-1960s. The experience in part opened her eyes to the emerging drug abuse that was impacting youth at the time and inspired her effort to form CHAC.
Recognized as a caring and positive person, Mrs. Alexander used her connections in the school communities to launch what was first called the Community Health Abuse Council.
“She was concerned about the lack of counseling services for the junior highs and the high schools,” said Hank Gauthier, a family friend who was an early donor to the nonprofit agency.
“She was the most charming lady,” he said of Mrs. Alexander. “She was always up, always positive – a joy to be around.”
He appreciated her style of fund- raising as well.
“She does not go in begging,” Gauthier said. “She goes in describing a tremendous community need. Without her asking (for a donation), you’re hooked.”
Making a difference
Although not formally trained, Mrs. Alexander’s leadership skills made her a natural for the CHAC executive director role. She served as executive director from 1973 to 1992, before moving from Los Altos to Penn Valley in the 1990s.
Joan MacDonald, a founding CHAC board member, said the board had to convince her to take the job. Mrs. Alexander, a teacher by trade, was surprised by the board’s offer, but MacDonald said Mrs. Alexander’s people skills won them over.
“Her whole being was to find the good in everyone,” MacDonald said.
Mrs. Alexander’s work did not go unnoticed in the community. She received a Community Service Award from the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Joint Community Volunteer Service Awards Committee in its first year, 1983. The Town Crier also recognized her in 1997 among its list of 50 residents “who made a difference.”
Monique Kane, CHAC’s longest-serving employee and executive director from 2001 to 2015, recalled how Mrs. Alexander hired her as a clinical director in 1986.
“It was sight unseen,” Kane said of Mrs. Alexander’s hiring of her over the phone. “It’s because she trusted her staff. She was warm and gracious, and allowed her people to grow.”
Kane said she adopted Mrs. Alexander’s approach when she became a manager.
“I learned a lot from her,” Kane said.
“She had incredible patience and love,” Richard said of his mother. “She absolutely loved working with kids.”
In addition to her son Richard, Mrs. Alexander is survived by children John, David, Cathi Mayo and Carol Sardo; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Her husband Richard preceded her in death.
Services are scheduled 11 a.m. Saturday (April 27) at Christ Episcopal Church, 1040 Border Road in Los Altos, where she was a longtime member. Donations can be sent to the newly established Dodie Alexander Memorial Fund supporting CHAC services. For more information, visit chacmv.org.