Robert A. Provost Jr., an orthopedic surgeon who combined cutting-edge medical acumen with a compassionate and upbeat bedside manner, died on Dec. 15 from pulmonary complications in Boston. He was 78.
Dr. Provost, known as Bob, spearheaded the introduction of arthroscopic surgery through his practice at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and his office in Lexington. One of his former patients, whom he cared for after a terrible car accident, saving both of her legs, said at the funeral that she had never forgotten his dedication and tender care. Numerous former patients and friends of Dr. Provost commented on his passion for medicine; he was a healer who loved his profession, and took great pride in providing empathetic care to people from all walks of life. In Lexington, Bob was a common figure on the sidelines of high-school sports games, serving as the doctor for the hockey, football and baseball teams.
Bob’s intellectual curiosity led to a remarkable academic career: he graduated from Arlington High School in 1952, where he served as class president and valedictorian. He then earned his bachelor of science from Harvard University in 1956 and his doctorate in medicine from Tufts University Medical School in 1960.
Shortly thereafter, Bob answered his country’s call to service by completing a tour of duty in Viet Nam from 1967 to 1968. Leaving behind his wife and three small children, Bob was stationed in An Khe, in the Central Highlands, where he served as a captain in an Army surgical unit. During his stay, he repaired countless soldiers and villagers.
This was an experience he would never forget and rarely discuss.
Bob was an avid sportsman with an indomitable competitive spirit. Club ice hockey at Harvard and semi-professional baseball in his youth gave way to competitive tournament tennis in his middle years. A lefty with a slicing serve, Bob won the Lexington town tennis championship a number of times in the 1970s before trading in his racquet for a set of golf clubs in his later years.
Bob possessed a keen sense of humor and a wide circle of friends. In a recent letter to the family, one close friend described how Bob would “laugh and in that exuberant voice we all know and fondly remember,” make claims about this or that, at one point saying, “You know what my kids call me? Dr. No! Can you believe it? It’s a riot!” Bob then went on to name his boat, moored in Edgartown harbor, the Dr. No.
Bob first came to Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, Cynthia (Hutchinson) Provost, in June of 1970 with his Army friends, Karen and Art Price. From the moment they set foot on the Island, they were enraptured by its beauty and tranquility. It would become their home-away-from-home for over 40 years — beginning with a house on Chappaquiddick and then in Edgartown. The Provosts always loved hosting friends on the Vineyard — from chowder parties to sunset cruises, picnics at the beach, book discussions and golf tournaments. The Vineyard awoke Bob’s passion for photography, an art he pursued for 30 years. This quest culminated in a number of awards, exhibits and magazine entries. Whether with Alison Shaw, from whom he learned so much about photography, or on his own, he visually documented countless Vineyard scenes: Menemsha sunsets, the Edgartown lighthouse, the dunes of South Beach, the cliffs of Aquinnah, links of Farm Neck (where he was a long-time member), and the Chappy Ferry. From dawn to twilight, it was a common sight to see Bob roaming the Island, his trusty Canon in his hand. Bob was surrounded by his beloved family when he died. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Cynthia; his three children, Michelle, Robert and David and their spouses, William, Katherine and Allison; and 10 grandchildren: Chris, Ryan and Tyler Gelnaw; Robert 4th, Caroline and Jonathan Provost; Sarah, Julia, Elizabeth and Katherine Provost. Cynthia and Bob’s love of the Vineyard has been passed on to their family, all of whom spend as many weekends and summers on the Vineyard as possible, his daughter and son in law recently purchasing a home in Edgartown. The family is committed to carrying forth their patriarch’s legacy of curiosity and passion. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be directed to Camp Jabberwocky, P.O. Box 1357, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.