Dr. Joseph Andrews
An accomplished physician heals and renews himself while telling Concord's story
Every April, and for the next six months, Dr. Joseph L. "Joel" Andrews dons his official red, white, and blue Concord Guides Walking Tour polo shirt and weaves his way for over two miles past the centuries-old landmarks that dot the streets of Concord, Massachusetts. To the tourists who follow him past the homes of such great thinkers as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, he is the storyteller who brings history to life, peppering his tour with personal insight. Reaching into a worn green knapsack that acts as both portable reference library and business office, Dr. Andrews might produce a book from which he passionately reads a passage to illustrate a point for his audience, an audience unaware that perhaps the best story of all is their guide.
His story begins with sadness and grief transmuted into a passion for history. After suffering the loss of several close family members, including his wife, in 1994, Dr. Andrews, an esteemed physician with the Lahey Clinic and formerly chief of the pulmonary section at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, took a personal leave from medicine. In 1995 he traded his spacious Newton, Massachusetts, home for condo living in Concord. He focused on working through his losses.
"Concord proved to be my therapy," confides Dr. Andrews. As part of his emotional revitalization, he signed up for an adult-education course about the history of Concord and passed the test required to become a licensed guide.
For the next three years, Dr. Andrews volunteered to lead tours offered through the Concord Chamber of Commerce's Visitor Center, but the staff said, "No, thank you."
"They told me I hadn't lived in Concord long enough," Dr. Andrews says. So, along with eight other licensed Concord guides he formed his own tour group.
Since its inception in 1997, Concord Guides' Concord Walking Tours has hosted as many as 3,000 visitors annually. During the early presentations, visitors often asked Dr. Andrews to recommend a short book about the area's rich past to supplement what they'd learned from their enthusiastic leader. He couldn't find one that he thought fit the bill. So the physician who loved English back when he was an undergraduate at Amherst College set to work writing one himself.
When the first edition of his Revolutionary Boston, Lexington, and Concord: The Shots Heard 'Round the World! was ready for the presses, nearly 40 publishers, citing its "narrow market appeal," said, "No, thanks." But Dr. Andrews knew there was a need for his book, so he self- published it, selling ads to 80 sponsors throughout the community to fund the project.
He peddled the book from store to store in Concord and neighboring towns. After his first two printings of 6,000-plus copies sold out, Commonwealth Editions in Beverly, Massachusetts, opted to publish the book and recently released an expanded third edition.
"It was a learning experience," Dr. Andrews says of his experience in writing and publishing the book. "It keeps the spark alive to create something that didn't exist before."
Today, Dr. Andrews seeks to maintain the balance in his life, dividing his time among his three passions: history, medicine, and writing. He teaches pulmonary medicine at Tufts Medical School and still maintains a private practice as an internist. Meanwhile, he's writing his next book, which currently has the working title Moses and Miriam in America. "It's about early American Jewish history," says Dr. Andrews, whose own Jewish heritage in America can be traced back to the 1600s. He also plans to pen at least two more history books that are already taking shape in his thoughts.
But acting as guide to the thousands who visit his adopted hometown remains at the top of his list of favorite things to do. For one thing, it's great exercise: "As a physician, I always advise people to go out and take a walk," says Dr. Andrews. "This is a way for me to take a two-mile walk and be paid for it. You can't beat it!
"Life has great potential," he adds. "You just have to be curious and persistent and have an open mind to learn and to cope with new adventures and projects."
- Catherine Turgeon
Dr. Joseph Andrews stands on Concord's "rude bridge that arched the flood,"
with the Minuteman Statue in the background.