'You couldn't ask for a better man': Friends, colleagues remember former health minister Dennis Furlong

Colleagues, friends, and patients are remembering Dr. Dennis Furlong, a former New Brunswick Progressive Conservative health minister, for his accomplishments and for the extraordinary care and attention he paid to his thousands of patients.

Progressive Conservative minister died Friday morning, party confirms

Former health minister Dennis Furlong first took office in 1999. (Submitted by Dennis Furlong)

Colleagues, friends, and patients alike are remembering Dr. Dennis Furlong, a former New Brunswick Progressive Conservative health minister, not only for his myriad accomplishments but for the extraordinary care and attention he paid to the thousands of patients he treated in northern New Brunswick. 

Furlong, who was a longtime family physician in the Dalhousie area, died "peacefully" Friday morning at the Campellton Regional Hospital, according to an obituary submitted to Maher's Funeral Home. He was 72. 

Before being elected, he served as president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.

Furlong took over the health portfolio in 1999, under the Bernard Lord government, the same year he was elected to the New Brunswick Legislature for the riding of Dalhousie-Restigouche East.  He also headed the provincial committee responsible for the New Brunswick Trauma Program. 

His other passion, aside from healthcare, was sports. He was long involved in track and field events, first as a competitor, and later as a coach and referee. He chaired the committee that successfully brought the 2003 Canada Winter Games to the Chaleur region. He also invented a ground contact monitoring device for Olympic race walking.

Dennis Furlong pole vaulting in a decathalon in 2007, when he would have been in his sixties. (CBC )

'Extraordinary person' 

In an interview Saturday, Bernard Lord described Furlong as an extraordinary person, and  "probably one of the smartest people to ever sit in the legislature of New Brunswick." 

Lord first met Furlong back in 1998, when Furlong approached him about running for the Progressive Conservative party. 

We lost a pillar, a mentor, and an ambassador in our community.- Normand Pelletier , mayor of Dalhousie 

"From the first time I met him, I was impressed by his intelligence, his sense of community, and his desire to do things for others," he said. 

"You could see that throughout his life, not just his political life, all his life."

Another former premier, David Alward, said he felt Furlong will be remembered for bringing significant improvements to healthcare in rural New Brunswick. 

"He did a lot of work early on in looking at the needs of the [Upper River Valley] and what needed to be done to help ensure primary care and acute care for the long term," he said. 

"Certainly he was a man, a physician, member of the community first, and had a passion for northern New Brunswick, and for rural healthcare."

Champion of northern New Brunswick 

Furlong was active in the community up until his death, says Dalhousie mayor Normand Pelletier. ((CBC))

Dalhousie Mayor Normand Pelletier knew Furlong since the 1970s, after Furlong, a family physician, delivered Pelletier's first son — on his own birthday. 

He described Furlong as a great ambassador for Dalhousie and for Restigouche County as a whole. 

"You couldn't ask for a better man," he said. 

Furlong was active in the community right up to his death, always lending a hand or advice to anyone who asked for it, Pelletier said.  

He treated you like you were his number one.- Nicole Bertin , former patient 

"Anytime you asked Dennis for a helping hand, he'd come in with his ideas and give us good positive feedback, who to go see," he said. 

"So we lost a pillar, a mentor, and an ambassador in our community."

Nicole Bertin met Furlong in 1981 when she was pregnant with her first child. 

At 20-years-old, she said she didn't have a family doctor but Furlong agreed to take her on as a patient. 

"I can't explain the way he took care of me. He was so good with me," she said. 

She said news of his death was devastating. 

"I think everybody that knew him, liked him. I've never heard anybody say anything bad about him," she said. 

"He didn't care if you were rich, poor, famous, not famous… he treated you like you were his number one."

Furlong was born in St. John's in 1945. He is survived by his wife, Pierrette Arseneault, sons Denny, Sean, and Robin, a stepdaughter Josée, and several grandchildren and extended family. 

A celebration of his life is taking place at the Aboriginal Heritage Garden Facility in Eel River Bar First Nation on Wednesday, March 14, at 2 p.m., followed by a visitation/reception until 6 p.m.