Alfred George Pelletier, M.D., my father, son of Jean-Pierre Pelletier, M.D. and Marie-Antoinette Poir, is born in Matane on March 29,1876. He is baptized Marie-George Alfred the same day by the pastor of St-Jérome Church, Matane.
Following in his father's footsteps, Alfred completes his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire in Rimouski, Québec, then studies medicine at Laval University in Québec City, graduating in 1898.
In 1900, in response to a call for French speaking physicians to serve French Canadian immigrants in the New England area, Alfred leaves his native land for Gardner, MA, at the age of 24. He is told in Gardner that there is no longer a need for a French speaking physician in Gardner itself, but the that the neighboring town of Winchendon could benefit from the services of such a physician. Alfred therefore establishes his practice in Winchendon on September 26, 1900.
Alfred finds himself in a town where the majority of the inhabitants are English-speaking and he is unable to communicate with them in their language. In order to learn English, Alfred seeks the help of the local High School French teacher, a young Irish girl from Boston, Elizabeth McGlinchey.
After a stormy courtship, during which Elizabeth returns to Boston for one year, Alfred and Elizabeth are married in St-Paul's Church in Cambridge, MA, on June 28, 1904. The ceremony is officiated by the Rev. John J. Ryan. Alfred's brother Gustave and his sister Blanche are witnesses.
Children with Elizabeth
Alfred and Elizabeth have one son and four daughters who live beyond infancy:
-Elizabeth Anastasia (Betty), born March 12, 1905, dies in Cambridge, MA, September 10, 1980, at age 75; -Marie-Antoinette (Toni), born October 3, 1908, dies in Belmont, MA, March 25, 1998, at age 89; -Charles Albert (Father Joseph, a.a.), born April 24, 1912, dies in Worcester, MA, August 31, 1986, at age 74; -Anne Marie, born September 17, 1910, dies in Worcester, MA, June 21, 1995, at age 84; and -Gertrude Evelyn, born October 15, 1915, dies in Belmont, MA, February 16, 1994, at age 78.
The enlarging family and Alfred's growing medical practice require larger quarters. The Pelletiers exchange their home on Central Street for a larger house at the corner of Central and Maple Streets, at 46 Maple Street, where the family lives and where Alfred has his medical office. This house, which dominates Winchendon's main street, continues to be the home for the family until the late 1960s.
Elizabeth develops cancer and dies on June 1, 1926, at the age of 49. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Winchendon, MA.
Alfred's Second Marriage
Faced with an ever expanding medical practice, Alfred hires Gertrude Dozois, known as Annette, a nurse from Manchester, NH, in 1923. They are married three years after Elizabeth's death, on October 2, 1929, at St-Mary's Church, in Lynn, MA. Alfred is 53 years old and Annette is 26, two years older than Alfred's oldest daughter. The wedding ceremony is officiated by Monsignor Joseph McGlinchey, pastor of St-Mary's Church and Alfred's first wife's brother. The Wall Street crash of 1929 occurs during the couple's honeymoon at Niagara Falls. They begin their life together at the onset of the Great Depression.
Children With Gertrude
Six children live beyond infancy:
-Colette Marguerite Thérèse, born February 16, 1931; -George Albert Joseph, born December 15, 1932; -Jacqueline Marie Claire, born March 1, 1934; dies in Auburn, MA, 27 November 2009, at age 75. -Audrée Alfrédine, born March 28, 1937; -Pierre Joseph André, born July 25, 1938; and -Marie Loretta Gertrude, born June 5, 1944.
Alfred continues to practice medicine up to his death in his 80th year, on June 1, 1955, twenty-nine years to the day of his first wife's death. The enormous outpouring from the community on the day of his burial is evident by the fact that all the town's merchants close their doors during the burial Mass to honor the dean of Winchendon's physicians. He is buried in Cavalry Cemetery in Winchendon, MA alongside his first wife, Elizabeth.
My father was one of the most respected citizens of Winchendon. For fifty-five years he served the medical needs of the community. During World War II, he was the only physician in town. He was one of the founders of the small Winchendon Hospital. After his death, the children's wing of the hospital was dedicated to his memory.
He was an extremely religious man. He attended Mass every
morning at 7:00 AM at St-Mary's Church (Immaculate Heart of Mary
Church) until the age of seventy, and probably would have
continued to do so were it not for the intervention of my mother.
She felt that the early hour of the Mass was physically draining
Alfred was also extremely devoted to Mary, the mother of Christ, and I'm sure that his Marian devotion was instrumental in his son Albert (Father Joe) developing a similar devotion. Father Joe, as we called him, wrote many books on the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Garabandal, and Medugorje. My father's devotion to Mary included the Marian rosary. On those nights when his office hours would allow, he would gather us around the dining room table to recite the rosary on our knees. When I was old enough to have a driver's license, he would ask me to drive him for his night house calls because of his failing eyesight. We always recited the rosary as we drove from house to house on his rounds.
He always remained ferociously attached to his native Québec and to his native tongue. During his lifetime, only French was spoken in the house, especially when we knew that he was at home. He taught every one of us to read French from a primer used in the Province of Québec at the time. I can still remember sitting on his lap in his office after breakfast as he pointed out the letters and words in the little primer with a pair of hemostats that he always had in his coat pocket. Many a time the hemostats were tapped on my fingers to correct my pronunciation. I still have a copy of the primer we used.
As I grew older, my father tried to get me interested in the politics of Québec by having me read articles from the Montréal French daily newspaper, Le Devoir, that he subscribed to for many years. Most of the time the content of the articles was well beyond my comprehension and interest, but I do remember one column called Bloc Notes.
My father was very active in Franco-American organizations, both locally in Winchendon as well as regionally throughout New England. The one organization that I remember the most is the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a fraternal organization devoted to promoting the French language and French-Canadian traditions as well as an insurance company that is still in existence today. In June 1905, my father was one of the founders of the local council in Winchendon, the Laurier Council, Number 132. From 1906 through 1908, he served on the national board of the organization as “inspector of accounts”. My father's dedication to and hard work for the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste was recognized by that organization when the Gardner, MA, Council was renamed in his honor after his death.
As I mentioned earlier, my father was most respected in the town of Winchendon. On the occasion of his fifty years of practice in the town, the community put together a day-long celebration one beautiful Sunday in October, 1950. The festivities began with a special High Mass at St-Mary's Church (Immaculate Heart of Mary Church) in which his son, Father Joseph Pelletier, participated. Later that afternoon, in the Town Hall, members of various organizations of the community presented my father with honors and tokens of their affection. I remember that Henri Goguen, then president of the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste, was there to recognize my father's work and dedication to his French-Canadian roots. Also present at the celebration was the then Consul General of France in Boston, Mr. Albert Chambon. I remember someone mentioning that my father had delivered over three thousand babies during his fifty years of practice, which represented well over half of the town's five thousand population. I still have a lovely mantle clock that the Nurses' Association presented to my father that day. The following tribute was written by Alton B. Skelton, M.D., Chief of Staff of the Winchendon Hospital, and printed in the souvenir program:
Fifty years of accomplishment is notable in any walk of life. To have served and worked among men fifty of our span of years is an opportunity which is not allowed the majority of us; yet, it is a goal we may all hope for.
Dr. Alfred G. Pelletier is one of the honored, having consecrated his life to the aid and relief of the sick and maimed. Being a graduate of Medical School fifty years ago, he was taught the art of medicine and service of sacrifice in the cause of human suffering, as well as the science of medicine. He has always followed these teachings ardently, never stinting of time and energy in the performance of his daily rounds - always applying his energies to the comfort and care of his patients.
Sympathetic, quiet and reassuring, he possesses the qualities which have promoted confidence among his patients. Ever alert to the new advances in the science of medicine, Dr. Pelletier never failed to offer the latest and best treatment to his patients.
Among his medical colleagues he holds a place of high esteem and admiration. He has taken little time for his own pleasure and relaxation. Those of us who have been associated with Dr. Pelletier have been conscious of his keen observations and his ability to comfort and relieve by sympathetic understanding.
My father, an extremely dedicated physician, rarely took an extended vacation. In 1940, he purchased a summer cottage on Lake Monomonac, in Rindge, NH, only five miles from our home in Winchendon. Despite its proximity, he rarely slept over at the cottage, coming out only to spend Sunday afternoons with his family. There were times, however, in early August, when I would wish he wouldn't come even on Sunday. Early August was just before the ragweed season, and my father would get us kids together those Sunday afternoons to pull up any ragweed plants we could find on our property. We would have preferred to be swimming or boating.
One of my father's favorite pastimes was playing auction bridge. He, my mother, and a few couples in Winchendon formed an informal bridge club that met occasionally for an evening of heated hands of bridge. Among the members of this club were Ella and Zadoc Beauvais, whom we all loved and called aunt and uncle despite the fact that we were not related. The Brousseaus and the Richers were also an integral part of the group. They would play some kind of round-robin competition which was always punctuated by much laughter as well as debates about missed plays and opportunities. They played for money, but my father convinced the group that the winnings were to go towards the education of a missionary seminarian that each family had “adopted”. My father tried to teach me to play auction bridge, with little success. He was luckier with my brother Pierre, who not only played a better game of bridge than I, but he was also a better chess player as well.
Unfortunately, my father's devotion to his patients did not allow him the time I'm sure he wished he could have to spend with his family. During those brief moments that he did spend with us, he was affectionate and supportive. I will always remember with special fondness the Christmas nights he spent with us, reading from the “letter” Père Nöel (Santa Claus) had just given him as they met on my father's most recent house call that night. Although he hadn't spent that much time with us, he mentioned most of each of our activities, good and bad, that had occurred in the previous year. I'm sure my mother helped him out by filling in with some of the details.
Union St-Jean-Baptiste Obituary
The following is my translation of the eloquent obituary published in French by the Union St-Jean-Baptiste in the July-August 1955 edition of its newsletter L'Union:
Death of a former Director General of the Society
Dr. Alfred-G. Pelletier, of Winchendon, Mass.
The Union St-Jean-Baptiste of America had just interred the mortal remains of its great Director General and the leader of the Midwest Franco-Americans, Emile LeRoy-Audy, of Chicago, Illinois, when it was struck another cruel blow, in the East this time, by the death of Doctor Alfred-G. Pelletier, of Winchendon, Mass., the Society's third oldest former Director General and the next to the last member of its fourth National Board.
With Doctor Pelletier disappears one of the most distinguished and well known Franco-Americans in central Massachusetts. Beneath his polished gentlemanly manners lay hidden, naturally and not by design, a strong personality which, with gentleness and firmness based on a solid base of enlightened convictions, was able to gain the confidence of our people and guide them in the proper path towards the survival of the French and Catholic traditions. Alfred Pelletier was a remarkable man in more than one respect, but primarily as a Christian. A man of culture, he had drawn from his profound classical foundation the guiding principles of a fruitful life. Father of a beautiful and numerous family of eleven children, all living, he taught them a sense of value and led them, with love, into their respective careers.
His medical profession was, after his family, one of Doctor Pelletier's great preoccupations. Conscientiously professional, he was not satisfied, as he might have, with only the medical knowledge acquired during medical school. Always concerned with increasing his scientific knowledge, he insisted on pursuing advanced medical studies that would assure him a more complete understanding of newer medical theories put forth by scientists, and permit him to perfect the technical aspect of his art. After half a century of eminent service, Winchendon honored him in 1950 with a major civic celebration.
Of French-Canadian origin, Alfred Pelletier immigrated to the United States with love for his native tongue and for the traditions of his native Québec Province. Throughout his lifetime he devoted himself to the advancement of the French cause in his region. As soon as he arrived in Winchendon, he noticed that the Franco-Americans needed to organize themselves if they wished to retain their ethnicity.
It was then that Doctor Pelletier heard of a new national federation of French-Canadian societies in the United States, the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d'Amérique. The Society became his favorite activity. In 1905, he founded a men's group in Winchendon, the Laurier Council No. 132, then assisted in the formation of a women's group, the Sainte-Catherine Council, No. 195, which was instituted at the end of the following year.
In the interval between these two foundings, Alfred Pelletier attended the fourth Congress of the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste, held in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in September, 1906. The delegates, recognizing in him a fervent and untiring worker, elected him to the National Board of the Society with the title of “Inspector of Accounts” for a two-year term.
It was through these Councils that Doctor Pelletier devoted himself for many years to the conservation of the French language in Winchendon. The Council meetings provided the necessary contacts. The Society members put on plays and organized sing-alongs. This influence contributed to maintaining the French language in the family, in the church, and even on the street.
In his office, at home, at the Society's club, in his professional visits, Alfred Pelletier always made it his duty to speak French. One can say, without exaggeration, that he never missed the opportunity to preach loyalty to his ancestral traditions.
Doctor Pelletier's zeal won him many honors. In 1941, the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste elected him titular member of the Order of Merit and Honor and gave him the Gold Medal with Palms, Highest Grade. The Society elected him Member of Honor in 1946. France conferred upon him the Medal of Honor for Foreign Affairs in 1950, and in following year he was elected member of the Academic Order “Honor and Merit” by the Society for the Spoken French Language of Montréal.
Alfred Pelletier has died, but the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste of America and the Franco-Americans of central Massachusetts will long remember him.
Originally from the Province of Québec, Alfred-Marie-Georges Pelletier was born at St-Jérome-de-Matane, in Gaspé, on March 29, 1876. He did his elementary school studies in his home town and his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire in Rimouski. He pursued his medical studies at the University Laval in Québec City where he received his medical degree in 1898.
Doctor Pelletier then immigrated immediately to Massachusetts and established himself in Winchendon. In 1908, he was one of the founders of the former Miller's River Hospital, the first hospital ever in the town. He was elected president of the town's Health Department in 1943. He also served for a time as Chief of Medicine at the new Winchendon Hospital. He had taken advanced medical courses at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as at Boston City Hospital.
Founding treasurer of the Laurier Council No. 132, of Winchendon, instituted on May 21, 1905, Doctor Pelletier had completed fifty consecutive years of service in this office only a few days before his death.
Doctor Pelletier died at home on Wednesday, June 1, following a brief illness. He was 79 years old.
At the funeral home, on Saturday evening, June 4, an imposing delegation of more than fifty dignitaries and members of our two Winchendon Councils, the Laurier Council No. 132 and the Sainte-Catherine Council No. 195, recited prayers along with our president, Mr. J-Henri Goguen, of Leominster, Mass.
The funeral mass was sung on Monday, June 6, at St-Mary's
Church (Immaculate Heart of Mary Church) in Winchendon. Mr.
Goguen and the General Councilman from Worcester, Mass., Mr.
Lucien-H. Desjardins officially represented the Union
Saint-Jean-Baptiste at the ceremony.