Dr. John Reichheld, Sr.

Dr. John Reichheld, Sr.

Reprinted from The Lowell Sun

LOWELL — To get an idea of how far John Reichheld’s orthodontics practice grew over the years, first consider the names of some of the patients listed in his planner when he first started in the 1960s.

Roger Maris. Y.A. Tittle. Bobby Doerr. They weren’t really his patients. As any old-time sports fan would know, those are a New York Yankees legend, a quarterback in the pre-Super Bowl days, and a Boston Red Sox great.

But Reichheld couldn’t afford to let new patients see he had virtually no other patients to start. So into the planner went a few stars of the time that he would never confuse with anyone actually coming in to get dental work done.

Reichheld would make his mark over the next four decades not only on the thousands of people who he gave braces, retainers and other needed work. He also dedicated himself to charitable efforts in the area, and for his work he was named a “community hero” by Lowell’s Community Teamwork Inc.

Reichheld, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island, graduated high school in Newton and then attended Boston College as the first in his family to go to college. Ignoring advice from his father that he not continue on with years more of schooling, he earned his doctorate of dental medicine at Tufts University and his orthodontics degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Soon after that, he and his wife, Patricia — who he met while they were both working summer jobs at a restaurant in Falmouth — already had five children. Though he raised his family in Lexington, he also left his mark in Lowell with his philanthropy.

“My father loved Lowell,” Stephen Reichheld said.

Each October, Reichheld hired dozens of buses to bring dozens of Lowell-area residents to Boston for charitable walks, especially those fighting cancer. He took up cancer as a dedicated cause after Patricia died of melanoma in 1982.

He also donated his boat — named Crossbite, a dental term — for the annual John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tournament, and helped raise money for the Genesis Fund.

“It was just a great feel-good thing,” said Margo Sargent, who worked for Reichheld for 15 years until his retirement in 2002.

Sargent called Reichheld “definitely ahead of his time” as an orthodontist who went with a less-structured, colorful environment before it was common. He held patient-appreciation days, even letting patients playfully get back at him by throwing a cream pie in his face. He also accepted patients on Medicare or Medicaid when many others wouldn’t because of lower reimbursement, Sargent said.

“It was just his nature,” she said.