More than once, Shawna Byer watched her father, Dale Robb, stop and check on people they came across who looked like they might need help.
Robb, the CEO of Recovery House — the parent organization that runs Serenity House in Wallingford and Grace House in Rutland — and a longtime figure in the area recovery community, died Monday at the age of 65. He was remembered by friends and family as someone animated by helping others.
“I’ve come home and helped him through two knee replacement surgeries,” Byer said. “Every time he got out of the hospital, the day of, he would want to go to Serenity House and I’d have to drive him there. ... He never stopped living and he lived for that.”
Bill Carris, chairman of the board for Recovery House, said Robb presided over a 10-bed expansion of Serenity House that has been an essential part of anti-addiction efforts in the area.
“He was probably exactly what the recovery community needed,” Carris said. “My feeling was he ran the best recovery in the state, if not New England. We’ve got a great reputation and he was a big part of that. ... He was big on second chances. People would go through treatment once and he’d have them go again if they needed it and again if they needed it.”
Chad Viger, who has taken over as the organization’s interim CEO, worked under Robb for 4 1/2 years.
“He was always for the clients and always for developing a staff professionally,” Viger said. “Finding the perfect balance of compassion and accountability — I think that’s a lesson he instilled in a lot of folks.”
Viger said that when someone has a relapse after recovery, it counts against a program’s success rate, but Robb felt that if a patient sought help promptly after a relapse, the program has succeeded.
Robb served in the Marines in the late 1970s and was on duty for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. He came to Rutland in 1985 and started a construction company.
“He built houses, he built roofing, he did everything,” Byer said.
He also, according to Byer, had a drinking problem that brought him to Serenity House as a client long before he took over the treatment center’s parent organization. Byer said her father got sober before she was born, and his colleagues said he was far from the first person to make a career out of addiction recovery after a personal experience with it.
Byer said her birth in 1991 inspired him to go to college. He got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then a master’s degree in counseling from College of St. Joseph, she said, and was promptly invited by one of his professors to teach, which he did at CSJ and Community College of Vermont. He also worked as the substance abuse counselor at Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
“People would just go down to see him at MSJ,” she said. “He would bring them to shoot hoops. ... That’s the way he would get people to open up.”
Friends said that he insisted his cancer diagnosis wasn’t bad.
“I always thought that Dale knew it was bad, but he’d never ever let you know he was in pain,” longtime friend Bob Prozzo said. “He didn’t want his friends to know he was suffering. He was more concerned about others.”
Prozzo said he met Robb at a poker tournament.
“He was a very intense individual, a very nice gentleman, very intelligent, a good friend,” he said. “He cared about people like nobody I’ve ever seen. When you talked to Dale, you were talking to somebody you knew was hearing everything you said, and you were getting the utmost consideration.”
Prozzo said he once connected a friend who needed help with Robb, and Robb wound up temporarily taking the friend in and taking care of him. The friend thought it was due to his connection with Prozzo, but Prozzo said he would have done it for anyone.
“That’s the way Dale was,” Prozzo said. “Dale was all about people.”
Mayor David Allaire said Robb helped integrate the recovery community into Project VISION.
“I think he’s leaving a tremendous legacy down there,” Allaire said. “He always put the patients first and the clients first. I think that’s his legacy and what he should be remembered for.”