With her thoughtful, probing questions and her critic's eye, Robin Dougherty revealed to readers across the country the wonders and deficiencies of books, television shows, plays, and movies.
The former Miami Herald television critic, who used to review plays, movies, and books for the Boston Phoenix and contributed to the Globe's book section, offered insightful commentary, often bringing to light shortcomings while avoiding an antagonistic, negative tone.
''In arts criticism, writers can get lots of attention by being very negative," said longtime friend Peter Canellos, the Globe's Washington bureau chief. ''Robin always conveyed a deep sense of respect for the person whose work she was reviewing."
Ms. Dougherty, 45, died in her sleep Friday night in her home in Washington, D.C., of complications of breast cancer.
Over the last few years, Ms. Dougherty interviewed many authors for a question-and-answer feature that appeared in the Globe's Books section on alternating Sundays. Among the many writers she talked to were historian David McCullough, author and veteran reporter David Halberstam, and ''Where the Wild Things Are" author Maurice Sendak.
''If I could sum up what Robin brought to the table for us, she was a thoughtful and sensitive journalist and an incisive critic, but she was never cruel in how she presented her views," said Jim Concannon, the Globe's book editor.
Not afraid to tackle any subject, Ms. Dougherty selected books and authors from a wide range of topics, from landmark Supreme Court rulings to insects.
''She had a knack for asking the right questions and getting good interviews, asking questions that hadn't been asked," said her sister Pat of Charlottesville, Va.
Ms. Dougherty grew up in Washington, D.C. After earning her bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary in 1981, she earned a master's degree in English and writing from Boston University. Not long after, she began writing for the Phoenix.
''She would really talk excitedly about all kinds of pop culture, TV, writing, novelists, poets," said former colleague and friend Jon Garelick, associate arts editor at the Boston Phoenix. ''She was just a great, enthusiastic consumer of culture and talked well about it, not a pedantic and stuffy person at all, very down to earth."
In 1995, Ms. Dougherty was hired by The Miami Herald as its television critic, a job she held for about two years. She then began freelancing for a number of publications, including Salon.com.
About five years later, eager to move closer to her family, she returned to Washington, D.C. After she wrote a few book reviews for the Globe, Concannon recruited Ms. Dougherty for the question-and-answer column, ''Between the Lines."
The questions she posed to the authors she interviewed suggest she performed a tremendous amount of research on their personalities and their eccentricities before getting them on the line.
''An interview is a make-believe conversation," she once wrote in an essay about an exchange with a particular author. ''I must extract the story in a limited amount of time. Famous Author must pretend there is nothing artificial about responding to a list of questions all about her. We each have our agendas. I have a deadline."
Friends and family said Ms. Dougherty was witty, self-deprecating, and a terrible driver. Her trademark answering machine message, which asked that people ''leave good news and interesting messages," was legendary among her circle of friends, as it seemed to capture her spirit.
For many, she was the kind of person whose opinion was a prerequisite before reading a book or watching a movie. ''She'd probably give you that view before you had time to ask," her sister said. ''But she would ask for your opinion, too."
In addition to her sister, Ms. Dougherty leaves her mother, Carolyn Forch of Springfield, Va.; another sister, Lynn of Topanga, Calif.; and her companion, Harvey Simon of Washington, D.C.
Services will be held at 3 p.m. today in River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Md.