Barbara Doyle recently got a call from the contractor working on the 12 new units at Carleton-Willard Village on Old Billerica Road. He was concerned about a resident walking her dog near the construction site.
When the caller described the resident, right away Doyle knew her name. She also knew the name of the dog.
“I manage by walking and talking. I know every single resident. We have 17 dogs and I know their names,” declared Doyle, CEO, and president of Carleton-Willard Village, which she has directed since it opened in 1982. “I am constantly around and very engaged with the employees and, most importantly, with the residents. It’s my number one priority and anyone who knows me knows that.”
She meets regularly with the village’s residents association executive committee because “it’s important that I hear directly from them. The association knows about my style; I call it ‘ear to the ground.’”
For the sixth consecutive year, Doyle and Carleton-Willard have been included in the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts by the Boston Globe Magazine in partnership with the Commonwealth Institute, a non-profit organization devoted to advancing businesswomen in leadership positions.
Doyle is a giant not only among the Bedford business community but nationally, “Barbara Doyle is a treasure,” Town Manager Sarah Stanton said matter-of-factly.
For Doyle, love for her work is figuratively in her DNA. She grew up in an Illinois suburb where her mother was the first woman nursing home administrator. Doyle spent vacations in high school and college working as a receptionist there. “So I grew up with just wanting to make a difference for older people,” she said. “It was just a calling and I’ve never regretted it.”
A psychology major at the University of Wisconsin, Doyle did graduate work in nursing home administration at Babson College in Wellesley. She was working as a licensed nursing home administrator in a New England Deaconess facility when at age 35 she was recruited to open Carleton-Willard Village in Bedford.
And she is still there.
Carleton-Willard Village was the state’s first full-scale continuing-care retirement community, ranging from independent living to nursing home on the same campus. Doyle said she didn’t hesitate to take the position. “I knew I was ready to take the next step in my career. I felt that the concept was something of which I wanted to be a part.”
“When I arrived, there were no policies or procedures or employees in place. I had to do all the hiring,” she recounted. Then there was the consolidation. Carleton-Willard Village absorbed not only the residents of its Old Billerica Road predecessor, Llewsac Lodge, but also a nursing home in Waltham and residents of the Elizabeth Carleton House in Boston. Click this link to learn more about Carleton-Willard’s history.
“It was very stressful. We were also admitting people simultaneously into the cluster homes and apartments and into the nursing center,” she said. “It took a couple of years to stabilize this large community.”
Those couple of years have turned into a career. At Carleton-Willard Village, Doyle said, she is experiencing “my life’s passion. When you have a vocation and an avocation as I do here, it doesn’t get any better.” She added, “When you have 400 residents and 300-plus employees, things are never dull.”
Her management focus is on “mission, mission, mission, and from that comes the vision and the guiding principles,” she said. “Once you understand that, it’s very easy to pass on to your employees, visitors, and the public.”
The official corporate mission includes providing “outstanding facilities and services, along with a caring and dedicated staff and an active and vibrant community built in collaboration with those we serve.”
“I try to be a ‘servant leader,’” Doyle explained. “My concept is wanting to serve others first and then making a conscious decision to lead.” She noted that “it’s a little bit of a challenge with emails these days because with the resident population it turns into a 24-7 job.” Doyle noted that she is “an early riser – I get up at 4.”
After 38 years, Doyle said, she encountered a situation equivalent to those early months of adjustment. And that’s the current coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.
“We literally shut down,” she declared. “It was a challenge – and fortunately I thrive on challenges.”
“This has been very difficult for residents. They don’t get out much, but we are keeping them safe and they understand and appreciate it. Fortunately, we have the acreage for walking,” Doyle said. “We are still hand-delivering 1,400 meals a day.”
“Now we are in the process of slowly and cautiously reopening — which is not much different than it was 38 years ago,” she continued. “We have opened the library, the hair salon, and the bank, all to one person at a time. My goal is to keep hopes up.” Personally, she is “thoroughly committed and re-energized.”
Doyle lauded her institution’s relationship with town government and residents. “The community has such a great feel,” she said, noting that a “significant number” of Bedford residents move into Carleton-Willard units and participate in the “at home” program.
The institution has interacted over the years with the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, and selectmen (now Select Board) on various expansion projects.
The CEO also pointed out Carleton-Willard’s close relationship with the Council on Aging, including financial. “I work with (Director) Alison (Cservenschi). Our contribution is used for rides and other things that help Bedford’s seniors,” she said, noting that “all the meals that are delivered by the Council on Aging are prepared in the Carleton-Willard kitchen.”
Doyle, once a rarity as a female CEO in the field, has chaired the trade association Massachusetts Home and Services for the Aging and has served as an officer in the national association, now called Leading Age. “So I have contacts with colleagues from all over the country. To see how the industry has been impacted by the virus is just absolutely devastating.”
She said she is now “working with colleagues and other not-for-profit boards to help our trustees and board members think strategically. It’s very important to make certain that the governing bodies remain active and understand their strategic responsibilities. There is no better board than Carleton-Willard’s.”
“Reinventing this community post-Covid is a very important process that the board and I are taking very seriously. Things will be different.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
Click this link to learn more about The Bedford Citizen’s first community reporter.