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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Grateful for the care of Dr. Backus

This letter was also signed “with affection” by Kathi Keller, Ryerson Kipp, and Cordelia Kipp, “and, in absentia, Ruth and Walter Kipp and Betty and Norman Keller.”

Originally published in The Commons issue #398 (Wednesday, March 8, 2017).

After nearly 40 years, Bob Backus is retiring. Dr. Bob joined the medical staff of Grace Cottage Hospital in the early 1970s.

The indispensable nurse-choreographer of the office, Sue Clark, would greet you as Dr. Bob buzzed out to escort you to his office and into a rocking chair draped with a well-worn crocheted throw.

You’d sit amidst his museum/office festooned with photos of the people of the valley, his medical-related cartoons, and posters offering some none-too-subtle advice about smoking.

You would spot photos of your kid’s first fish, handmade gifts, and artwork from appreciative patients, as well as photos of his family.

Conversation would begin with stories about your kids and then politics and then general commiseration about the state of national and world affairs. Next would come the swapping of long lies — his were always better, told with great voices and inflection. Like any good teller, he never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

All the while Dr. Bob would be studying you with those piercing and sparkling eyes, accompanied by a monumental shit-eating grin.

Finally, it was time for medical questions and diagnosis and treatment. His explanations were medical seminars, as he would carefully explain what and why. Always current with the latest protocols, his encyclopedic medical knowledge would usually be marinated with a good dollop of wisdom and Vermont-style common sense.

Dr. Bob’s admonitions were never stern, but you would always get the point. You would know he was treating more than the malady.

To those who were pregnant, he would suggest, “Why not have your baby at home?” So, with the help of a midwife, a birthing course, and his guidance, you prepared. Labor pains meant being accompanied by the midwife, and down to Brattleboro from Townshend would come Dr. Bob.

You’d know he didn’t want to miss the action. How many house calls did he make in four decades?

His indomitable spirit, humor, irrepressible good nature, love for his profession, and the people he devoted his life to will surely be missed. We were most fortunate to have been one of his first patients, and we have recently learned from Sue that we will be be in his office for one final visit on his last day.

Dr. Bob might be going out to pasture, but you can be assured he will never be pasteurized.

Tim Kipp


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