Recalling the life and feats of ‘Doc’ Goyette

Courtesy photo A photo of Charles and Meri Goyette taken at their wedding in August 1946. Charles Goyette, a longtime Nashua physician, died last week at age 92.

In “One Man’s Story,” a collection of memoirs he published in 1996, Dr. Charles H. Goyette disclosed how he solved the problem many new-in-town physicians encountered back in the post World War II era: Convincing their pool of prospective patients that the young, new guy really is a full-fledged medical doctor and can be fully trusted.

Compounding the problem further yet was the fact that Goyette, who died Wednesday just shy of his 93rd birthday after a period of failing health, was one of those fancy specialists, and the challenge seemed monumental.

(A funeral service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Immaculate Conception Church in Nashua. A full obituary can be found at www.nashuatelegraph.com)

Of those earliest days in practice, “I wasn’t overwhelmed by a geat number of patients at first,” Goyette wrote, tongue-in-cheek, in “One Man’s Story.” In fact, so slow was business that he admitted to considering returning to his practice as a military doctor at Fort Devens.

But he and his wife, the same Meri Goyette known in Nashua and beyond as the Energizer Bunny of civic endeavors, began a sort-of “awareness campaign,” finding ways to get the new doctor’s name “out there” among not only potential patients, but also Nashua’s more-established physicians.

Courtesy photo Charles Goyette

Of all the ideas the young couple came up with, my favorite of all — and I’m sure you’ll agree — is the clever scheme that eventually conquered “Doc” Goyette’s early anonyminity problem.

Back when electronic pagers, never mind cell phones, were objects of science fiction, professional folks, like doctors, would often be paged at public places over a loudspeaker to answer an important call.

Soon, diners at fancy restaurants, supermarket shoppers, business folks talking golf and tennis and trust funds at country clubs, even the thousands who filled Holman Stadium for games or the Fourth of July celebration, noticed they’d begun hearing a lot of loudspeaker calls for this doctor named Goyette.

Nine times out of 10, “I’d be paged … even though I wasn’t needed,” Goyette wrote, probably wearing a big grin as he typed. The little scheme “was of tremendous help in establishing a practice.

“Slowly, the volume of patients increased, and I knew I had found my niche,” he wrote.

Courtesy photo Dr. Charles Goyette, a longtime Nashua physician who died last week at age 92, and his wife, Meri, in a 1987 photo.

Today, as “Doc” Goyette’s widow, their five surviving adult children and the family’s small army of grandchildren, nieces and nephews recall with fondness a long, accomplished life that touched countless others both within and well beyond his profession, somewhere around 10,000 people representing three generations are remembering the gregarious man who brought them into the world.

“We had a great run, didn’t we?” Meri Goyette asked, rhetorically, as we chatted the other day shortly after her husband passed. “And you know what? It’s still going,” she added emphatically. I agreed.

I’d describe “One Man’s Story” as part memoir and part history, at once enjoyable, educational and illuminating, spiced with just the right dose of humor. Admirably, Goyette didn’t gloss over the occasionalnegatives that are bound to crop up over the course of nearly 93 years and a four-decade career as an OB/GYN.

More admirable yet, he faced head-on the most devastating event he and his family would encounter: The 1991 murder of Robert “Robie” Goyette, their son and brother, who was shot and fatally injured one cold, snowy evening in the middle of downtown Nashua.

On the lighter side, “Doc” writes about the period in his career when he “had had enough of being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year” and formed what he says was “Nashua’s first medical partnership” with Nashua native Dr. Normand Cote.

Soon Dr. Joseph Duval came aboard, completing the partnership long referred to as “The Holy Trinity.” Duval died in the early 90s; Cote, who battled a heart condition for years, died in 1995.

As for Goyette’s rather humorous anecdotes, there’s the “special” the doctors came up with early in their partnership: If a patient had five children with them, the sixth was no charge, a sort of “have five, get one free” deal.

But that’s also when Goyette, if delivering a baby while covering for another doctor, was paid $50. Early in his practice, “complete obstetrical care” cost a patient $125 –no additional charge for a Cesarian section. When he wrote the book in 1996, the same care cost $2,400. I have no idea, nor any desire to know, what it is now.

Although he was known as an ideal husband and father who spent as much time as he could with his family, “Doc” Goyette also presented with (pardon my medical jargon) a classic case of being married to his job.

When he was feeling lucky, Goyette would take his wife and kids to Hampton Beach for the day, “worrying all the time I was away that I would miss a delivery or two.”

After all, he wrote, he was the only doctor his patients saw during their entire pregnancy. “I was afraid,” he admitted, “that they’d be mad at me when another doctor they didn’t know showed up” for the delivery.

Goyette also had the distinction of having as his spouse for nearly 72 years the woman to whom nobody in their right mind would ever say “no.”

If one was asked why he or she took on some monumental task they weren’t cut out for, or what convinced them to donate funds they really couldn’t spare to a cause of some kind, the typical answer was a sheepish, “well, you just don’t say ‘no’ to Meri.”

But if Charlie Goyette ever said ‘no’ to his wife, it was by far the exception. Indeed, I cannot cite one example, and I bet I would have heard about it, because Meri surely would have told anyone who would listen that “Charlie said no to me. Can you believe it?”

Once in awhile, after securing yet another bit of funding from her husband for one of her half a million projects, Meri would count her blessings aloud: “Poor Charlie,” she’d offer with a laugh before pausing, a twinkle in her eye.

“You know, Charlie is so good to me,” she would always say.

“Doc” Goyette was good to a lot of people, for a whole lot of reasons. There are the estimated 10,000 people he brought into the world (about 30 tons!) he liked to say, and made sure the calculation was mentioned in his obituary.

There is the long list of people connected with causes, philanthropies and civil and societal endeavors who are grateful for his help.

And there are those who are grateful to have been able to call him son, husband, dad, granddad (or whatever variation they peferred), brother … and “doctor.”

On a personal note, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to call “Doc” Goyette friend.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or@Telegraph_DeanS.