During 30 years as president of Somerville Hospital, Normand E. Girard oversaw the hospital’s expansion while making health care for the poor a top priority.
“Normand was the kind of fellow who really worked hard to make sure the hospital was focusing on the needs of all of the people in the community, especially those who were indigent,” said his longtime friend and fellow hospital administrator Carl Wathne, retired executive director of Lahey Clinic.
Becoming Somerville Hospital’s chief in 1966 was Mr. Girard’s dream come true, according to his family. He and his wife, who both grew up around Hartford, had longed to raise their children in the Boston area.
“He adored the hospital,” said Nancy (Carroll), his wife of 54 years. “It was his other family.”
Mr. Girard died May 20 in Winchester Hospital of acute myeloid leukemia, which was diagnosed a year ago. He was 79 and lived in Winchester.
‘He adored [Somerville Hospital]. It was his other family.’
“He had a public health vision for Somerville Hospital as a private, nonprofit hospital that was ahead of its time,” said a statement from the Cambridge Health Alliance, which now operates Somerville Hospital.
The alliance said Mr. Girard was “one of the first hospital administrators in the state to use a public health approach, to identify services that were essential to all members of the community regardless of ability to pay.”
He helped create a network of neighborhood health centers, while establishing hospital-based medical practices including a women’s clinic and a pediatrics center.
“Dad was committed to the health care industry and refused to sacrifice quality care for any patient, no matter what their personal situation was,” said his youngest daughter, Katie Fortin of Winchester, who is a pediatrician.
Mr. Girard grew up in Connecticut, where his parents owned an ice-making company after emigrating from Canada. He graduated from high school in Meriden, Conn., and from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Connecticut, where he was in the ROTC.
He served in the Air Force before graduating with a master’s degree in hospital administration from Yale University. His family said he worked at other health care facilities, including Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
At Somerville Hospital in the 1970s, he worked with architects to create a new design for patient care units that became models for other hospitals.
Instead of large wards with rows of patient beds and supply stations on separate floors, Mr. Girard and a team from a New York architectural firm created compact clusters of patient rooms with a nursing team’s station at the center, according to the 2000 book “Healthcare Architecture in an Era of Radical Transformation.”
The hospital’s adolescent psychiatry unit and geriatric specialty unit also were created during Mr. Girard’s tenure.
He served as chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Hospital Association and was president of the Hospital Superintendents Club in 1979. He was also a founding member of the South Middlesex hospitals council.
“He had an extraordinary work ethic which he applied not only to his job, but to everything he ever decided to do,” said his oldest son, Jim, who lives in Germany.
“He once said to me, after I’d done a subpar job raking leaves, ‘Jim, if you’re going to do a job, do it well, or don’t do it.’ With that in mind, I have tried to not miss a leaf, real or metaphoric, since,” his son added.
When Jim was 6, he decided to run away from home to escape his three siblings. His father kept watch as the boy packed a bag.
“Did he try to stop me? No,” Jim recalled. “Did he phone all the neighbors up the street to tell them to expect a knock on their door? Yes. Did he record my entire, short-lived saga on his movie camera? You know he did.”
When his children were growing up, Mr. Girard made a point not to miss nightly dinners with his family.
“He was also very funny, and I have great memories of the humor that passed at the dinner table,” Katie said.
In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. Girard leaves another son, Tom of Tivoli, N.Y.; another daughter, Susie Condon of Hampstead, N.H.; three sisters, Juliette Haynes of Summerville, S.C., Diane Herget of Meriden, and Claudette Beamesderfer of Panama; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. Mary’s Church in Winchester. Burial will be private.
Sailing, traveling, and photography were among Mr. Girard’s passions. His wife decorated their powder room with African wildlife photos Mr. Girard took in Tanzania and dubbed it the Safari Room.
He enjoyed racing small sailboats on the Mystic Lakes, including his beloved turnabout boat christened Winsome, and built model ships in his later years.
Mr. Girard was also an avid member of a small group of men who called themselves Gourmet Gourmands. Since 1994, the friends have taken turns organizing monthly dinner parties where the host makes the entree and assigns recipes to the other men to complete the feast. Their wives are supposed to just enjoy the food and not assist.
“We had some really great meals,” said his friend Wathne, who wondered how the group would continue without Mr. Girard. “He was a great family man and a really good person. When you read an obituary, everyone was so great, but he really was.”