BURLINGTON – Robert Dowling is not a typical hospital volunteer.
For 13 years, he has been spending two days a week volunteering in the Main Lobby at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington.
Dowling is responsible for greeting patients and visitors who come through the doors and assisting them in getting where they need to be. But his role entails so much more.
Often, Dowling is the first face people see when they enter the hospital and he helps to set the tone for their visit. His role is particularly vital in the post-COVID era as he provides a calming presence. He says he can almost always detect the reason behind someone’s visit by the look in their eyes when they arrive and helps to set them at ease.
“Some people know exactly where they are going. Others you can tell need help. They’re struggling to come in. They’re nervous,” he says. “If you have a good eye, you can solve 90 percent of what’s concerning them.”
Dowling, who has generously provided more than 2,450 of volunteer service over the course of 13 years, is now also responsible for training the students who volunteer as lobby greeters as part of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s summer Junior Volunteer Program. He says he derives a sense of fulfillment from watching the students blossom in their roles.
“Volunteering is more than giving back,” he says. “It comes from the heart. It’s an intangible thing.”
Dowling, 74, lives in Woburn with his wife, Janet, a retired school teacher at Arlington Catholic High School. Their son and daughter-in-law, Jason and Ruth, of Needham, have provided them with the biggest source of joy in their lives: grandsons Ryland, Greyson and Holden.
Raised in the projects, he says he was blessed with caring foster parents growing up. His first job was as a dishwasher at a delicatessen at age 14. He made $1.25 an hour. He was shocked when the owner gave him a $500 bonus at the holidays and thought it was a mistake. He has always remembered the man’s generosity and it continues to inspire him today.
Dowling put himself through junior college. A staff sergeant for six years in the U.S. Army Reserves, he worked for many years in management in the food industry, including with Star Market, prior to his retirement.
Dowling is a member and past secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Woburn and was a previous Kiwanian of the Year.
“It’s my turn to now do whatever I can for people,” he says.
Mary Iodice, director of Volunteer & Patient Services for Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, calls Dowling “a bright light” for the entire organization.
“For the 13 years I have known Bob, he has been a treasured volunteer, a true gentleman and friend,” Iodice said. “His unwavering dedication to Lahey Hospital’s patients, visitors and staff is a testament to his kindness and his desire to pay it forward. We are forever grateful that Bob chose to join our volunteer team, and we look forward to many more years together.”
Currently, there are 125 adult and junior volunteers hailing from 41 communities serving Lahey Hospital & Medical Center at both its Burlington and Peabody locations. Together, they contributed 10,847 total volunteer hours to the organization in 2022. The volunteers range in age from 15 years old to seniors and include high school students, pet therapists, musicians and retirees.
Lahey Hospital is accepting new volunteers at both locations. Opportunities are available as lobby greeters, messengers and escorts; in the gift shop; and assisting central processing delivery and various other hospital departments. Lahey Hospital is also seeking pet therapists who provide comfort and care to the patients and staff and volunteer musicians who enhance the hospital environment through their performances.
Volunteers receive training, free parking and meal vouchers. Volunteer application forms are available at https://www.lahey.org/lhmc/volunteer/. More information is available by calling 781-744-8803.
About Lahey Hospital & Medical Center
Lahey Hospital & Medical Center (LHMC) is a world-renowned tertiary academic medical center known for its innovative technology, pioneering medical treatments
and leading-edge research. As a physician-led hospital, LHMC offers a legacy of care and education committed to putting the patient at the center through a multidisciplinary, collaborative and team-based approach. LHMC’s research efforts and clinical trials
cross numerous medical disciplines, providing patients with access to the latest options in treatment and care. For more information about Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, please visit
LHMC is a part of
a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice
of medicine through groundbreaking research and education. For more information about Beth Israel Lahey Health, please visit
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