The Tools for Life

Dec. 22, 2020
A background in locksmithing can lead to almost anywhere, says podiatric surgeon.

Being a locksmith can open a lot of doors — some of which might not be obvious at the time.

That’s the message Dr. Scott Doherty, a podiatric surgery specialist in Mobile, Alabama, has for those thinking about going into locksmithing or looking to entice young workers into the field.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I wasn’t a locksmith,” he says.

Doherty has been a podiatric surgeon for nearly 20 years. He is affiliated with Providence Hospital in Mobile but also worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many years before that, Doherty worked as a locksmith for six years at the once-venerated but now-long-gone S & S Key Service on Chicago’s South Side. Doherty says the experience gained working in that lockshop serves him to this day, particularly when he operates on people’s feet and ankles.

“When you’re dealing with locks at an early age, you start to learn mechanisms, the mechanics of how things work, the understanding of them,” he says. “That definitely helps me in the operating room when I do surgery. I often tell people, ‘once you get past the skin, it’s all wood shop.’”

In other words, fixing a lock and fixing someone’s foot have a lot of similarities. Doherty notes that he now drills and taps bone the way he used to do the same with steel when he was a locksmith.

Because of that, he says, he’s good at solving puzzles, another similarity between being a locksmith and being a foot surgeon.

“When you do surgery, things may happen intraoperatively that you don’t anticipate,” Doherty says. That doesn’t deter him. “Because of what I walk in there with from my skills as a locksmith, I go in there with a huge sense of confidence. I can honestly say I’ve never had anything go bad on me, because I go in there with a plan and a strategy.”

Doherty was the sixth child of a family of seven when his family moved to Lansing, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago. It was there that he met Al Yeager, “Big Al,” who was part of a three-man crew who had bought S & S from the Simon family. Yeager took Doherty under his wing and soon had him working in the lockshop at the age of 14.

Big Al kept the teenager on the straight and narrow, Doherty says, helping him to nurture a strong work ethic instilled from when he had a paper route at the age of 7 in Gary, Indiana. Big Al even got him out of trouble after Doherty’s school found out that Doherty was ditching class to work at the lockshop.

“Big Al was tough on me,” Doherty acknowledges. “But he always used to say, ‘I know I’m hard on you, but someday you’re going to be running this business.’”

It didn’t work out that way, but it helped Doherty get through high school thanks to earning school credits for his locksmithing work. College wasn’t in the cards because of finances, so Doherty joined the Coast Guard.

The Military and the CIA

At first, Doherty thought his place in the Coast Guard would be as a gunner’s mate, because locksmith is considered to be one of the civilian crossovers to that position. However, his older sister, who was in the Air Force, changed Doherty’s mind and path.

“‘You’re going to be repairing all the locks on the barracks, and you’re never going to advance,’” Doherty recalls his sister advising him. “So I went the electronics route.”

But his locksmithing experience still helped Doherty when he wound up as the sole electronics technician on the USCGC Mesquite, which participated in the U.S. mission in Grenada in 1984-1985, because it taught him he could manage things on his own.

“I went from really running the shop on my own as a locksmith now to being the sole electronics technician on this Coast Guard cutter,” he says.

Doherty was discharged honorably in 1986, and as he was leaving the military, a door opened to him that he hadn’t considered — the CIA. He says he was recruited by the organization, and on his application, he noted that he was a former locksmith and good at picking locks.

Soon, he had an interview lined up at CIA offices at Tysons Corner, Virginia. Doherty didn’t get the job, because he was married to a Canadian citizen (from his time in the Coast Guard stationed in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, near the Canadian border), but he wonders what could have been.

A brother-in-law was retired from the CIA, and Doherty says his brother-in-law noted the significance of the Tysons Corner address. In short, an interview at Langley, Virginia, meant Doherty likely would have gotten a job offer to work at the CIA’s headquarters there, the relative advised. Tysons Corner, however, meant Doherty might have been a spy.

“I would have had a cover, and I probably would have been, like, an embassy worker in a foreign country,” he says. “I can’t help but wonder if picking locks didn’t grab their eyes.”

Medical School

Instead, Doherty moved to Iowa to be near his mother and decided to stick with the electronics, but he says he wasn’t happy in the field and began to think about an entirely different course of action that involved college. Again, his locksmithing experience opened a door he never imagined.

At a library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Doherty stumbled upon the name Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, grabbed a catalog and read up on what an osteopath was and how the college had a school of podiatry. Where’s the connection to locksmithing? The name.

S & S had a huge clientele, Doherty says, ticking off the Museum of Science and Industry, among others.

“I used to do all the lock work for the Chicago Osteopathic Hospital,” he says. “So I always heard this word, ‘osteopath,’ but I never knew what it meant.”

Intrigued, Doherty called the school, visited, spoke with students and faculty and decided that this was what he wanted to do. But, because he was only a high-school graduate, Doherty had to go through regular college first. He accomplished that by using his electronics job to pay for college credit while he attended community college before transferring to the University of Northern Iowa for his bachelor’s degree.

Doherty then applied to Des Moines, where he was accepted, graduating in 2001.

He continued a relationship with the military, performing his residency at the Baltimore Veterans Hospital before later becoming the sole podiatrist at the VA’s outpatient clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Eventually, Doherty moved to private practice.

Today, he still picks locks, so to speak, but instead of steel, it’s bone.

“I’ve been very privileged,” Doherty says, adding that he hopes his life might inspire younger locksmiths. “It could show a young person that that locksmith experience can take you places if you got the right stuff.”

Editor’s Note: Dr. Scott Doherty can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Will Christensen | Senior Editor

Will Christensen is senior editor at Locksmith Ledger International. He has been an editor and reporter at magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years.