As Luck Would Have It: Dr. Robert Dorr Marks 40 Years in Branford
In 1982, two months before he finished his specialties training at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, a call from Branford reached Dr. Robert G. Dorr. You could say it was the luckiest call of his life.
The call was from Dr. Herbert Goldenring, who founded Pediatric Associates of Branford in 1954. When he asked Robert to join his practice, then located on Kirkham Street, Robert’s response was instantaneous and enthusiastic (more on that soon).
In 1989, when Herbert retired, Robert bought the practice, moving Pediatric Associates of Branford to its present offices at 420 East Main St. As a doctor of 43 years, Robert is now celebrating his 40th year, and counting, as a pediatrician with the same Branford private practice.
Coming to Branford
A remarkable chapter early in Robert’s Branford story is how he found the town. It starts with a long ride, a soon-to-be bride, and a stop at Lenny’s Indian Head Inn. Born in New Britain, Robert loved New England and felt practicing in Connecticut would be a perfect fit. But his wife, Carol, wasn’t as sure. As a compromise, he cast a wide net when searching for his first job in private practice.
“I had left off resumes, in my last year of training, at pediatricians around the coast, because my future wife was not sure she wanted to be in New England. She was from Maryland, and she thought maybe New England was the frost capital of the world,” says Robert.
“I assured her, driving through the East Coast and dropping off resumes from Baltimore to Maine, that Connecticut’s not frozen in ice all year round.”
Heading along the highway through this neck of the woods, they took a detour to find a restaurant.
“We ended up landing in Branford, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this town is so cool!’,” Robert recalls. “I never knew it existed. We had a nice little lunch at a seafood place called Lenny’s, and then we went on our way and went back to Pittsburgh. And then, darned if two months before I finished my training as a specialist in pediatrics, I got a call from this person, Dr. Goldenring. One of his associates was leaving, and he had gotten a resume along the coastline from me. And I said, ‘I’ll be there anytime.’ It was wonderful.”
To this day, Robert’s grateful to have been called to practice in Branford, which also became his family’s home.
“I thank God every day about it,” he says. “I really was going to stay in Pittsburgh. When you train somewhere and it’s a big children's hospital, you know all the local doctors, [and] I had almost resigned myself to staying. It’s a very nice area, and I had been approached by several practices to start.”
But Dr. Goldenring’s offer checked all the boxes on Robert’s wish list.
“I really wanted to be in Connecticut where my family was, and I also wanted to be with a practice in a small town with a big educational institute next to it, like Yale, to keep me on my toes and keep me learning,” says Robert. “But every time I said that to everyone in Pittsburgh, they said, ‘Yeah, everybody wants to do that! You’re not going to get it.’”
As some who also loves to sail and scuba dive, Robert was really hoping to work and live in a coastal community like Branford. As an added bonus, he notes, Branford’s located between New York and Boston.
“It was perfect. It was absolutely perfect.”
Robert and Carol moved to Branford in 1982. The couple raised their 2 children, Melissa and Michael, here.
“I decided I wanted to stay in the town that I was going to practice in,” says Robert. “And it was a good decision, because as a pediatrician I was going in at all times, nights and days. And I lived five minutes away from the office, which was also good, because soon as I’d get home, I usually got a call, and I’d just turn around and go back. So it really made me feel better about coming in at all hours!”
Spending all hours of the day caring for other kids meant Robert had to bend the rules a bit when it came to quality time with his own kids.
“Seeing other people’s children, I'd give advice to parents, ‘...make sure your kids are in bed early [and] don’t rile them up before bedtime!’ Of course, when I came home at all hours, I’d wake the kids up to play with them!” he says. “And my wife would say, ‘That’s fine, as long as you put them to bed.’ And we took care of them pretty well, I think.”
Today, Melissa, is a veterinarian in Massachusetts and mom of 2 little ones: Finn, 4, and Malcom, soon to be 2. Robert adores being their “grandpa.” Michael assists at Robert’s practice with billing/front office/IT needs, which is perfect because, as Robert notes, “...I am not computer literate!”
Carol designed the office interior on East Main Street, which was a shell when Robert first moved in. They also decided to buy an extra portion of a neighboring unit to incorporate in the office design, so that Robert could continue Dr. Goldenring’s practice of having “Sick” and “Well” entrances/exits for patients. It’s all part of the comforting atmosphere parents and patients experience at the practice.
Carrying on a Legacy
Robert attributes much of Pediatric Associates of Branford’s success to carrying on the legacy of his friend and mentor, Dr. Goldenring, and to working with a phenomenal group of associates and staff, past and present.
“Dr. Goldenring was a wonderful pediatrician on the shoreline, and working with him was my first wonderful experience in private practice,” says Robert. “He was a great pediatrician and a good mentor and teacher not only to the children, but also to me.”
When he first took over the practice in 1989, Robert was on his own for a while as its sole doctor. But for the majority of years he’s had the privilege of being joined by several accomplished associates who all gelled well with the practice. If they left, it was usually because a significant other required a job move, says Robert. One of his longest associations continues to this day, with Dr. Raymond C. Seligson, who has been with Robert for 26 years.
Robert’s also grateful for the good fortune he’s had to work with many of his staff for many years.
“I have the most wonderful staff! I would never be able to do the work, and the amount of energy it took to keep in this practice, without my staff,” he says.
Kris Olovson Smith was Robert’s first new hire, in September of 1989. Next month, she’ll have been with him for 33 years.
“When Dr. Dorr bought the practice, the employees came with him,” says Kris. “Phyllis Richitelli retired after 48 years; Arden LeVausser retired after [some] 30 years. CC Martin, Pat Porto and Claire Mason were also part of the crew.”
Six months after Kris was hired by Robert, a new nurse, Barbara Yenco, came on board. She served as the practice’s head nurse for over 30 years before her recent retirement. Kris also notes another recent retiree, Nancy Hillier, worked with the practice for almost 15 years and still fills in when needed. It all adds up to “...huge longevity with his employees,” says Kris.
“I’ve just been lucky with my staff,” says Robert. “They have just kept me going.”
In fact, when Kris recently created an office display of photos and cards celebrating Robert’s 40 years with the practice, “...I couldn’t believe I’ve been here for 40 years!” says Robert, adding with a laugh, “But there’s a big sign in office; so I’m feeling older when I walk by it.”
On a serious note, he adds, “...some doctors do burn out; and they have their ups and downs. I think being a pediatrician, at least for me; it makes me feel younger than I am. It just energizes me. I come in here, and I can be so tired, and those kids smile; and the father who used to be my patient brings in his baby, and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a fun ride.’”
Through the years, Robert’s had plenty of opportunities to expand the practice to include a larger number of associates, and also has been asked to join other practices in the area. But he’s always held to his original plan for the practice.
“We’ve never had more than three doctors here, including myself,” he says. “That way, we all felt we knew all the patients. You get to those big practices; you can’t remember all the names and keep track of all the patients.”
One of the many benefits of keeping his practice small and in the same town is the honor of caring for a family’s next generation, he says.
“One of the highlights of my practice is that I have a lot of parents that I’ve taken care of that bring their children here. I’ve had parents that both the father and mother came here, and brought their children,” says Robert. “It’s just such a pleasure to see how well they turned out. I feel like they’re my family and kids. I talk to the parents, and the grandparents who come in and say, ‘I brought my child here, and now I’m bringing my grandchildren here.’ I say, ‘I guess we both did a pretty good job.’”
Pediatric Associates of Branford welcomes cards and comments to help celebrate Dr. Robert G. Dorr’s 40 years practicing in town; please mail them care of Kris Smith, Pediatric Associates of Branford, Unit 6, 420 East Main St. Branford CT 06405.