CHAMPAIGN — The first Champaign resident to die of complications from COVID-19 was a longtime dentist who put his patients at ease with his humor and calm.
Alan Broadbent, 72, died Thursday at Carle Hospital, the second COVID-19–related death in the county following another last week of an Urbana resident in his 80s. A private burial service will be held this week, and a larger memorial is delayed because of coronavirus restrictions.
Dr. Broadbent had told friends and colleagues that when he died, instead of a funeral he wanted a big party with a mariachi band.
“We’ll tell stories about what he did for us and to us, and that will be a whole lot better than a somber service,” said his sister, Mima Kearl, who lives in Utah.
“He was just a fun guy,” said Nancy McNabb, a family friend.
Friends and family remembered his calm, generosity and, perhaps most of all, his sense of humor.
“He loved telling jokes and playing tricks on people and having a good time,” Kearl said.
More than 30 years ago, Kearl donated one of her kidneys to Dr. Broadbent, a gift he never forgot. He’d send her flowers — always yellow ones, for the color of urine.
“That was the kind of sense of humor he had,” Kearl said. “He was kind enough to say ‘Thank you’ over and over and over, and he was cheeky enough to make a point with it.
“And so the flowers were always beautiful yellow flowers every year. And I never felt like it wasn’t appreciated.”
And his staff was loyal to him.
“He figured if you treated people well, they worked better and harder,” Kearl said.
‘The best boss I ever had’
Cathy Joyce, who was his assistant for 16 years, described him as “the best boss I ever had.”
Dr. Broadbent would call her every year on her birthday, helped her take care of her father and loved a good prank.
“We would pull pranks on that man, and he would take it every single time,” Joyce said. “We would do things I don’t think anyone else would’ve tolerated. ... He made it fun to go into work.”
Dr. Broadbent hired Joyce after a friend referred her to him.
“It was the easiest interview,” she said. “He didn’t make me feel nervous.”
He asked if she could work the next day, which she did, “and it never stopped.”
Just like with Joyce, Dr. Broadbent had a way of making his patients feel calm.
“I had a terrible fear of dentists, which came from bad experiences as a child,” said Mitch Kazel, a retired College of Media professor at the University of Illinois. “His kind, warm, compassionate manner not only got me over that fear, but now I look forward to going to the dentist. I owe that all to him.”
Dr. Broadbent was born on July 27, 1947, and married JoAnne Alynne D’Alo in 1978, according to his obituary.
He attended Uni High, Kearl said, and then the UI.
He later graduated from the dental school at Washington University in 1975 before opening a practice in the Champaign area, where he served for 35 years.
Local periodontist Steven Seibert often took care of the gums of Dr. Broadbent’s patients.
“He was very compassionate and very capable with his hands,” Seibert said. “Some people are good with their hands, but not compassionate. Some people are compassionate, but not good with their hands. Alan had both.”
McNabb’s kids all had Dr. Broadbent as their dentist.
“Our kids growing up were never afraid to go to the dentist,” she said.
“He was a really nice guy,” said her husband, Paul McNabb. “He had a dry sense of humor, and he was not impressed by people who put on airs. He saw through that right away. I would describe him as jolly.”
They attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints together, where Dr. Broadbent was an active member.
“When I left on my mission to Japan, he was a new dentist at the time, and he did an exam for me for free, since I didn’t have much money,” McNabb said.
Another fellow parishioner, Alex Ruggieri, had a similar experience.
“When I was younger, I struggled when we had the last recession in the ’80s. I needed some dental work and didn’t have any money, but he went ahead and did it,” Ruggieri said. “That’s the kind of stuff he did.”
Dr. Broadbent “had the magic touch,” Ruggieri said. “Somehow, there was not a lot of pain involved when dealing with Alan.”
They became close friends, with Ruggieri and his wife getting dinner with the Broadbents and other couples once a month for 35 years.
“We called it the Gourmet Dinner Club,” Ruggieri said. “We made all the food in the beginning, but ended up meeting each other at restaurants.”
“I loved that man,” he said.
Dr. Broadbent had four sons, all Eagle Scouts, and 13 grandchildren.
‘He was beyond words’
When Dr. Broadbent retired in 2010, his staff planned a party for him at the I Hotel and invited 300 people.
“He kept saying that nobody is going to show up,” Joyce said. “Every single person came to that retirement party. He was beyond words. He said, ‘I didn’t know I had this many people who remembered me.’”
He sold his practice to Lindsey Hans, who said Dr. Broadbent was “very popular with his patients.”
When he visited, “it was like the mayor coming to town,” Hans said.
“We have a lot of patients that still ask about him,” she said.
His generosity continued through the sale, Joyce said, as he put in the contract that the practice was going to be sold with the staff included.
“He was not going to sell his practice and just let us go,” she said.
Dr. Broadbent was diabetic, had high blood pressure and had undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery, Joyce said, putting him at a high risk of complications from the coronavirus.
“He was in and out of the hospital all the time,” she said.
He was sent to the hospital about two weeks ago in an ambulance.
That was the last time his wife saw him alive, Kearl and Joyce said, to prevent further spreading the coronavirus.
“The staff at Carle was incredible,” Kearl said. “Somebody called JoAnne every day and gave a report. When he was finally lucid, two different people over there made it possible for him to listen to her on the phone.”
Unlike his past medical battles, “he couldn’t survive it this time,” Joyce said. “It’s so surreal. I just talked to him a few days before he went into the hospital. He was just the same Alan I always knew.”