A few years ago, the popular podcast Crimetown painted an unflattering but unfortunately mostly accurate picture of our beloved Providence as a center for organized crime. But what provided the “secret sauce” for its success were their interviews with some of the local miscreants, now out after serving their jail time. Their stories were fascinating and involved everything from getting away with murder (literally) to raising wolves as a hobby. Many sported equally fascinating nicknames: The Ghost, Baby Shacks, Buckles, and, one of our favorites, the Doctor Broad.
Barbara Roberts was the physician in question and has recently written a tell-all autobiography appropriately entitled The Doctor Broad: A Mafia Love Story. Arriving in Rhode Island in the ‘70s, Barbara suddenly found herself taking care of the infamous Raymond L. S. Patriarca, the head of the New England Mafia. Soon, a tense showdown ensued between the feds hell-bent on putting the crime boss away for the rest of his life and the feisty 36-year-old physician dedicated to keeping him alive. The battle raged publicly for months, often ending up above the fold on page one of the Journal.
But as dramatic and detailed as this battle was, it is almost secondary to the narrative of the circuitous journey it took to get her there. Raised as a “nice Catholic girl,” Barbara went to New York for college, passed the required science courses, and met a fellow pre-med student who was also the school’s star quarterback, married, and started a family, all in the next few years. But, as she writes in her book, “a tough proto-feminist was germinating inside the still-dutiful wife and soon-to-be mother.”
Pressures grew. Her husband Archie was determined to both play pro football and continue his medical training. The nice Catholic girl was becoming an atheistic activist traveling across the country advocating for abortion and feminist rights. The marriage fell apart, custody battles ensued, romantic misadventures continued. Upon entering RI as its first female adult cardiologist, she began what can best be labeled as the “Mafia Years,” both as the doctor of one Mafioso and the mistress of another. In short, living a life with more twists and turns than a Scorsese movie.
Barbara spares nothing in terms of details or imagination in this very personal tell-all (sometimes perhaps too much so). Well-written, the book is replete with cinematic possibilities and comes packed with a full array of black and whites.
I’m happy to report things ultimately end well. Dr. Roberts now lives in Jamestown, still loves sailing, and has been happily married to her artist husband for the past 20 years. But there’s a warning too: Don’t ever mess with Doctor Broad.