Deborah Douglass

Deborah Douglass

BERNE — Deborah Douglass was a vivacious woman whose kindness extended to every living creature she met — human and animal. She died on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, with family by her side. She was 69. 

Ms. Douglass was born on July 23, 1952 in Wappingers Falls to Robert and Phyllis Owen. Both of her parents drove school buses for the Wappingers Falls school district, something Ms. Douglass would later do for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school district. Her father had also served as a military policeman and New York State Trooper, a job that brought the tight-knit family to Berne in 1985.

“She started working for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school district as a bus driver soon after moving,” Ms. Douglass’s daughter, Dawn Gibson, wrote in a tribute. “Although she had retired years before, she continued working as a substitute, as she loved driving and the kids.”

Ms. Gibson told The Enterprise that while she and her brother, David Douglass, were students in the same district, they “couldn’t get away with anything,” since their mother was so well connected. 

After Ms. Douglass retired, Ms. Gibson said, “she was still a substitute, and we were making the joke that she was working on [getting to know] her third generation of kids. It’s like, ‘I knew your parents, I knew your grandparents, now I know who you are, what house you’re living in.’ We always told her she was a creeper because she would see a kid and know where they live.”

Naturally, Ms. Douglass was an outgoing person — the kind who would, for instance, get the number of her Pep Boys representative because “he was fun,” Ms. Gibson said. 

“She would make friends wherever she went,” Ms. Gibson said. After her mother died, she said, “I went through her cell phone, trying to call people I didn’t have numbers for … and she had sold a slide-in camper to a family who three years later were still sending her pictures, telling her where they’re going and what they’re doing and how much fun they’re having with the camper.”

In a tribute, Ms. Gibson wrote, “Her family and friends were her world; she would make sure to check in — sometimes daily, and ensure that you made it safely wherever you were going and to know she was thinking of you.”

And as a mother, Ms. Gibson said, Ms. Douglass was “very loving.”

“Even at 41 years old, she would check in every day, see how you’re doing …,” she said. “I was in the hospital for a brief period and she was in every day, no matter what else was going on. She always ended a call with, ‘I love you and I’ll talk to you later.’”

Ms. Douglass’s affinity for people translated to animals as well, having grown up with a variety of pets. “She had a St. Bernard, she had collies, we had a German shepherd growing up,” Ms. Gibson said. “There were always animals in the house.”

Animals didn’t necessarily have to be real to catch Ms. Douglass’s attention, either. She was an enthusiastic collector of wolf imagery, which could be seen in her home on decorative plates, clothing, and as sculptures, among other things. 

“That’s actually something I got her into,” Ms. Gibson said. “I had bought her a blanket. She just wanted something to put over the couch, to pull over. And the picture had a couple of wolves and the moon in the background — it was one of those ‘perfect-picture’ type things.”

Living on the Hill gave Ms. Douglass a rich source of animal exposure, which she took full advantage of, turning it into a way to connect with those around her.

“She enjoyed being on the Hill, being able to watch and talk to the deer, turkey, fox, and occasional bear, while also making sure she took pictures of them playing so she could share these experiences with others,” Ms. Gibson wrote in a tribute. 

When she wasn’t doing that, Ms. Douglass might have been watching hot air balloons or fireworks, which, Ms. Gibson wrote, she would drive for an hour to see for just 15 minutes.

“She was known to many as a second mom, sister, and daughter,” Ms. Gibson wrote. “She touched the lives of so many with her unconditional love, generosity, kindness, and humor. She would make friends wherever she went and enjoyed making others laugh and smile. She made sure that others knew she thought about them and loved them.”


Deborah Douglass is survived by her “partner-in-crime,” William Swart Sr.; her son, David Douglass; her daughter, Dawn Gibson; her two grandchildren, Austin and Avery Gibson; and many aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Funeral/memorial services will be scheduled at a later date. 

Memorial messages can be left at

— Noah Zweifel


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