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Much-loved doctor delivered thousands, including multiple generations

  • Dr. Doug Black holds day-old Damon Hadley on Dec. 30, 1989. GEOFF FORESTER Monitor file



Monitor staff
Monday, March 20, 2017

If you believe in reincarnation or fairy tales, perhaps Dr. Douglas Black will return as a stork.

He lived his life that way, as a deliverer of babies, carrying them into people’s lives. He told me he delivered “a couple of thousand” babies when I wrote about him six years ago.

That was his retirement column. Sadly, this is his obituary column. The good doctor left us earlier this month. He was 86.

Writing about Black is easy, because his life included such clear and distinctive paths, about riveting, human material. His father died from lung disease when Black was 3, turning his mother into a role model who was forced to raise her five sons alone.

And the baby angle, of course, is irresistible. Perhaps Black delivered one of your babies. Or all of them. Perhaps he delivered your mother’s babies, and her mother’s babies. Perhaps he delivered you.

It’s possible, because Black began his OB/GYN practice in Concord in 1963. He worked until he was 80 and, as colleague Dr. Oge Young of Concord told me, “He worked the hardest, and he was the oldest. An exhausting night for us was a night he would describe as exciting.”

This time, I found other angles, fresh angles, those I had not discovered when first meeting Black in 2011. I found Rita Portalupe of Bow. She and Black graduated from Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt., in 1948. They didn’t hang in the same circles back then.

But a couple of decades later, after Portalupe and husband Joseph had moved to this area, her life intersected with Black’s in a big way. In fact, he changed her life, because in those days women played only a minor role in the medical field.

Black had other ideas. Progressive ideas. That’s why he sent Portalupe to Alabama for more education. He promised her a job when she got back, and he kept his promise.

“He gave me the opportunity to become the very first nurse practitioner in Concord, which I’ll always be grateful to him for,” Portalupe said. “He was kind and considerate to his employees and to his patients, and his patients loved him, because they knew he really cared for them.”

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I found other fascinating tidbits. Black was a Republican, yet he was pro-choice after experiencing the horror of illegal abortions while he worked in New York City.

“I’d ask him, ‘How can you support the Republican Party when they want to outlaw abortion,’ ” Young said. “He’d say, ‘I’m not a one-issue person.’ ”

Elsewhere, Young told me Black introduced natural childbirth to Concord’s medical community and fathers to Concord’s delivery rooms. He told me women who lived south of here would bypass hospitals in Manchester to have their babies in Concord.

And, as we know, Black loved delivering babies. He and wife Elizabeth had five of their own. At work, Black and Young and three others delivered 1,850 babies per year, compared to the 1,200 delivered today by 20 area obstetricians, according to Young.

“His work was his everything,” said Black’s daughter, Becky Black, who works for the Community Action Program. “He made it look easy. He’d come to work and every day was a beautiful sunset. Every sunset was the most beautiful sunset ever. He loved life.”

And his patients loved his love of life. He calmed them, comforted them, no matter how many hours he’d worked, no matter how high his stress level happened to be at the time.

“His basic trait and the reason why people had positive feelings was he was open and friendly, understanding and a good listener,” said Becky Black’s husband, Doug Ingersoll. “He handled pressure like a routine occurrence that could be handled by anyone, and people reacted to that. Under pressure, his personality was a real bonus.”

Black felt pressure early. He grew up during the Depression in Barre, Vt., known as the Granite Capital of the World. His father and others who worked the quarries often suffered from dust-related silicosis. That led to tuberculosis. That led to death.

His 43-year-old father died when Black was 3. Joseph Portalupe, Rita’s husband, also grew up there, graduating from high school the year before they did, in 1947. He said Black had more to worry about than school.

“He was as active in high school as possible, because he was in that situation where his mother was widowed and he had to help at home,” Joseph told me. “He always had a part-time job. He knew responsibility at a very young age.”

Concord benefited from this sense of responsibility, this work ethic, this vision. In recent years, friends noticed that Black was slowing down. His memory wasn’t the same. He died from dementia-related illness on March 2, and a memorial service is scheduled for April 8 at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church.

Robin Broadbent’s youngest son, Harry, was delivered by Black. She wonders if St. Paul’s can fit all the expected mourners.

“Oh my goodness gracious, we’re already asking what are we going to do?” Broadbent said. “There’s upstairs, there’s downstairs, but he was so well-loved, and so many babies. They’re everywhere.”

They are, indeed. Thousands of them. They began their lives in good hands.

“He was a role model of kindness,” Becky said.