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A Life: Longtime jeweler Phil Dutille ‘was a gem’

  • Phil Dutille, center, with his younger brothers Chester, left, Francis and Peter, in front, in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

  • Phil Dutille toasts his wife Connie during a celebration of her 80th birthday at their Naples, Fla., home on Jan. 18, 2016. (Phil Dutille, Jr. photograph)

  • Jeweler Phil Dutille in a circa. 1960s photograph at the downtown Lebanon, N.H., store he bought in 1959. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2019 10:03:24 PM
Modified: 9/15/2019 10:03:19 PM

LEBANON — For years after Jude Dutille bought his father’s downtown Lebanon jewelry store in 1993, customers of a certain age regaled him with tales of Phil Dutille’s athletic prowess at Lebanon High School and Kimball Union Academy.

“He was quite a football player, big and fast,” Jude said last week. “Some of these people who played with him or had to go up against him would say things like, ‘One thing you did not want to see was the Lebanon guard pulling.’ ”

One thing you did not hear from Philias H. Dutille Sr., right up until he died on July 5 at age 91, was a word touting his accomplishments, in athletics or in business. The nearest example you’ll find might be this one line — “I excelled in football and track. I never lost a race in track” — that he wrote in his personal-history form upon moving into the Harvest Hill assisted living community in March 2018.

Just the facts, ma’am.

“He was very quiet, almost bordering on being shy,” said Steve Christy, retired president and CEO of Mascoma Savings Bank, next door to the jewelry store on North Park Street. “A quiet gentleman.”

How quiet and gentle, West Lebanon resident Jean Louis Desrochers learned during their years together with Council 2656 of the Knights of Columbus.

“He was a very, very shy person but a very bright person,” Desrochers recalled last week. “When we needed someone to lead our council and our assembly, I tried to talk him into it but he didn’t want the job. The night of the election, he still was resisting, but I made a motion and it was seconded. He was our Faithful Navigator of the assembly for two years and Grand Knight of the council for two years. Running the meetings, he was very knowledgeable, very effective.”

So his customers noticed at the store

“He was shy as all get out, which, basically, is not the personality for sales,” Jude Dutille said. “But he balanced that out with trustworthiness and honesty. He had that without question. This business is all about that.”

What the Knights and the customers and the business community saw and heard pretty much mirrored what Phil Dutille showed his wife Constance and their five children.

“He listened,” said Louise Dutille Bebeau, who works with her brother in what they now call Dutille’s Jewelry Design Studio. “He was present. He had a sense of humor that came out after he got to know you. He’d give you a little something, a little treasure.

“He was devoted to everybody who was important to him in life.”

The devotion started with his parents, Philias O. and Gladys M. Dutille, and his four brothers, and ran through the generations, including 10 grandchildren — one of whom, Beau Maville, works in the store as well — and a great-grandson.

“His mom lived to be 92, and he would go visit her every day after work,” Bebeau said. “Then he’d work his way over to the high school for whatever game or track meet us kids had going that day. You’d look over to the sideline, and he was there.

“He was able to take care of everything and everyone.”

Phil Dutille wasn’t sure for a while whether any of his kids — Jude, Louise, daughters Diana Bushway and Ann Cheney or son Phil Jr. — would take care of the family business. Neither was Jude, who doesn’t remember his father dropping hints, overt or covert.

“A lot of times in this business, you hear stories about a kid sweeping floors at 11 years old and then following in their father’s footsteps,” Jude said. “That wasn’t me. At the same time, he never pushed me or tried to guilt me into it. That wasn’t him.”

Phil’s patience and silence paid off after Jude’s freshman year.

“The program I was in wasn’t very interesting,” the son said. “That summer I worked in the store and decided to stick around. He needed the help, and all of a sudden I found it interesting, working with the hands.”

And as much as Phil enjoyed working with his hands, after a couple of years of working part-time at the store, he found plenty to keep him busy back home in West Lebanon.

“He was always a big gardener,” Jude said. “As a child of the Depression, he worked his family’s garden growing up, and he did quite a bit of it in retirement.”

And in retirement, Phil didn’t need to pine through winter for the soil to thaw. With their longtime West Lebanon neighbors, Eugune and Eleanor Boisvert, Phil and Connie had begun going to Florida during their children’s school vacations. Not long after Phil passed the torch of the store to Jude, and Eugene started delegating day-to-day authority in his plumbing and heating business, the couples were migrating south for six months at a time, first sharing a condominium and eventually a house.

The arrangement worked so well — Eugene and Phil had grown up in the same Lebanon neighborhood, as had Connie and Eleanor in Connecticut — that the couples built adjoining houses on Pasture Lane in West Lebanon for the rest of the year. Eventually, Eugene recalled, the Dutilles “sold their house and moved in with us. People used to say, between the four of us, we’d make one complete person.”

However unconventional, the arrangement paid dividends as time and infirmity started catching up with the Dutilles.

“People were always in awe, especially our doctors, that we were able to live a communal life,” Eleanor Boisvert said. “We ate healthily and we got along.”

Not that Phil was ultra-strict about his diet.

“The man lived for Chinese food,” Bebeau said with a laugh. “I don’t know where that came from. At his 80th birthday, we had a big party and got way more food than we should have bought. He was in his glory. We have a ton of pictures of him at the Sunrise Buffet (in downtown Lebanon), none of them from the same day. They’re all from different days.”

Phil continued to enjoy what Bebeau called “simple pleasures,” even during Connie’s decline, and after her death on Dec. 10, 2018.

“I’d visit him in the nursing home and bring pictures of Jude’s work at the studio, and he was just beaming. If he was sitting at a table with some of the other gentlemen, he’d show them to the other men and say, ‘My son did this.’ ”

The bigger reward for Jude was his father’s smile, through the struggle during his final couple of years.

“He had all the right in the world to be grumpy and frustrated,” Jude recalled, “but he had the nicest way about him.”

And his daughter Louise had a word for that way.

Make that two words.

“I started saying to Jude, even on the difficult days, ‘He’s a peach,’ ” Bebeau said. “And he was a peach.

“He was a gem.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Valley News

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