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A different bed these days, but the doctor is still in

  • Dr. Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, now uses his gardening skills on several areas in downtown Penacook including the roundabout. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, deadheads the flowers in the roundabout in downtown Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, uses his tractor to do some landscaping along Village Street in downtown Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, now uses his gardening skills on several areas in downtown Penacook including the roundabout. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Some of the flowers Dr. Robert Gabrielli cares for in downtown Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dr. Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, uses his tractor to do some landscaping along Village Street in downtown Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Sunday, September 03, 2017

The doctor’s bedside manner, now directed at flowers, not people, remains gentle and nurturing, six years after his retirement.

His patients have healthy color – yellow, purple, pink. They stand tall and dance in the sun on breezy days. They’ve laid down roots, adding charm and identity to a community that too often – and unfairly – has played the ugly stepsister to proud Concord, just 6 miles away.

“Potato plants, petunias, baby’s breath,” Robert Gabrielli, who founded Penacook Family Physicians 35 years ago, tells me in an unsure tone. “I’m not sure of the names of these things. That’s what happens when you get old.”

He’s 70, but he looks younger. He’s tall and lean, with a quick smile and complete awareness of and appreciation for his great life. “Pay it forward” is how he describes it.

He’s got a wife, three grown children, a home in Concord and enough in the bank to travel to see his children, one of whom lives in Oregon.

“Since I retired, I’ve died and gone to heaven,” the good doctor tells me.

His Garden of Eden is centered at Penacook’s rotary, which circles around a Union soldier. It sits directly across from the building in which the doctor perfected his other type of bedside manner during his 30-year medical career.

It’s a project that began last year, and the doctor is quick to spread the credit around, from locals Matt St. Onge, to Dave Duhamel, to Bonnie Sargent, each of whom makes sure the grass is cut and trash is removed and the mulch is smooth and the flowers are fed.

Once he tells me about that trio of volunteers, the doctor makes sure to mention three old friends, each vital to who he is now, each gone far too soon.

There was Dr. Tom Watts, a dentist who lived near the square, who gave the young doctor and his family a place to live before the doctor could find his own home, and who died from a heart attack in his garage at the age of 49.

There was Robert “Eli” Whitney, another close friend, who built the doctor’s office and gave and gave and gave until he was randomly murdered while helping a friend, in a case that made national headlines. A sign honoring Whitney sits in one of the doctor’s flower beds.

There was also Larry Langlais, the Penacook pharmacist who was never too busy from behind his raised platform to offer advice. He was a good friend, too, and he died from Alzheimer’s six years ago at age 59.

In other words, after graduating from the University of Southern California’s medical school and coming here with his wife and little baby, the doctor has become part of the landscape like all those flowers and rocks that line up so neatly in the village.

The doctor quickly got a taste of Penacook’s raw side in 1980, hearing bikes rev and curses fly and beer bottles break during Bike Week, which drew an edgy crowd to the nearby Buggy Barn, since closed.

Workers leaving the old tannery’s night shift would party there, too, prompting the doctor to laugh and tell me, “I said to myself, ‘What the hell did I do? Look at this town I moved to.’ ”

Look, indeed.

The doctor is all about flower power. After a recent downtown renovation, the doctor began planting flowers, some donated by a local nursery which asked to remain nameless, a sure sign of the genuine spirit embedded in the community like rich soil.

The doctor knew nothing about installing an irrigation system, so he went online, learned and dug, and now there’s an underground system, running on a timer, near the gazebo and that Union soldier, with tubes piping water into the flower beds.

Nearby is the picnic table the doctor donated, and across the street is the tractor he uses to dig and smooth and move big things around.

People in town know what the doctor means to the community. In fact, Bob Charron, who worked for Langlais in the local pharmacy for 34 years, showed up during my interview with Gabrielli, extending a hand to thank the doctor for sprucing up downtown Penacook with those flowers and that smoothly layered mulch and that picnic table.

“Just wanted to say thanks for your flower garden over there,” Charron told the doctor. “Gorgeous.”

And then came retired school teacher Ginnie Pinard, leaving the local yoga place with a mat tucked under her arm, making sure I knew that she was the doctor’s first patient 35 years ago.

“I have a thousand first patients,” the doctor told me, laughing.

And nearby, there’s Liz Navoy, Larry Langlais’s daughter, who was thrilled and grateful when the doctor asked if he could beautify a piece of the family’s land, in tribute to the longtime pharmacist, 50 yards from the gazebo.

“Beautiful,” Navoy said. “He’s done a lot for the town. We were thrilled with the idea, and not only for the memory of my dad, but for the overall beautification of Penacook as well.”

The doctor brought in sand, mulch and big rocks from his own land to pay tribute to Langlais. Soon, a plaque will be added.

Across the street, at the Village Street Garage, owner Jeff Chaplain is glad to see the doctor drop by, telling me, “Thumbs-up. A lot of people have noticed what he’s done.”

He’s downtown nearly every day for three or four weeks through the spring, then returns once a week during the summer. Season No. 2 is nearly finished.

Winter’s on the way, but the doctor will be back next spring, with a bedside manner to warm things up.