AUGUSTA — Thankful. It’s not the word that may come to mind first when you see Augusta Police Chief Bob Gregoire. His legs don’t work and he has only limited use of his arms after crashing his motorcycle during a September charity ride. He knows he might never walk again.

But the words Gregoire uses most when talking about his circumstances express his gratitude. Gregoire gains a little movement on a nearly daily basis, and for that he is thankful. He survived the motorcycle crash that easily could have killed him, and for that he is thankful. His wife of 21 years, Cathy Gregoire, suffered a broken ankle in the crash, but she was there when they first pulled the breathing tube out of Gregoire’s throat. She was able to hear her husband whisper his first words, “I love you.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The Gregoires have faced a long, difficult journey since that day in the intensive care unit, but next month Gregoire will mark another milestone when he resumes his duty as head of the city’s Police Department.

“I feel fortunate the city wants me back,” Gregoire said. “I’m here to succeed. I’m going back to work to succeed.”

In the Gregoires’ view, it all could have ended so much worse.

“We’re very thankful,” Bob Gregoire said. “I feel thankful that I woke up.”

There have been untold challenges for the Gregoires as they learn to live and thrive in what they call “the new normal,” but so far they have met that challenge with the same grit and determination that helped Gregoire rise from a rank-and-file patrolman to chief of police during his 27-year career.


Bob Gregoire, 49, and Cathy Gregoire, 47, vividly recall the crash that brought them to this place. It was Sept. 6 and they were riding with a group of friends in an event to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. It had just started to rain as the couple rode on Crash Road in Jay. The Gregoires’ motorcycle left the road on the curve.

“It just drifted off the edge of the road,” Bob Gregoire said.

He wasn’t initially concerned. He had easily corrected and gotten back on the pavement the other times his motorcycle had gone into the shoulder, but this time was different. The road had recently been repaved and the side of the road was unfinished and the dirt was soft. The handlebars spun sideways, throwing Gregoire off and onto the side of the road, where he slid down the grass. Cathy Gregoire went with the motorcycle to the ground.

Cathy Gregoire, who suffered a broken ankle, was in pain, but Bob Gregoire said he thought he was OK. He never lost consciousness and never knew the severity of his injury until he arrived at Central Maine Medical Center’s emergency room and attendants discovered he had no feeling. An MRI revealed Gregoire had damaged his spinal cord between the fifth and sixth vertebrae.

Doctors told Cathy Gregoire the first night that it would be at least six weeks before her husband could move anything. They weren’t certain if he’d regain any movement at all, but six weeks later Gregoire moved his thumb. Gregoire can now move all the fingers on his right hand and has some movement in the fingers on his left hand.

“It took me a week before I could even feed myself,” Gregoire said. “Now every day some of the things I do are easier.”

Cathy Gregoire said the injury is like a cloud hiding the limbs from the mind. The hope is getting movement through that cloud.

“If you can get movement, you can make it stronger,” she said. “We’ve never gone back. Some days we don’t gain anything, but that’s OK because we don’t lose anything either.”

Gregoire was moved briefly to CMMC’s rehabilitation hospital before moving Sept. 22 to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

“When I got there, I could do little to nothing,” he said. “You need to be pushed.”

Gregoire said he has always been a positive person, but if he needed any reminder to count his blessings, he found them in the patients he met at Spaulding. There was the photographer who slipped on the rocks, the homeowner who fell while working on the house and the man who tripped in his living room and wound up a paraplegic.

“Anything can happen at any time,” Gregoire said. “In an unfortunate situation, I feel fortunate.”


Bob and Kathy Gregoire were able to go out a few times while in Boston. Bob Gregoire remembers the first time he left the hospital in a wheelchair. The sideways glances he expected never came, for which he is thankful, but what he discovered right away, and has proved daily since, is the difficulty of living life in a chair.

“It’s a whole different world,” he said. “It’s a different world going out to a restaurant in a wheelchair. You think you can imagine it, but you can’t.”

He relies on his wife to help with so many activities he once did without thinking.

“I feel pretty fortunate to have her,” Gregoire said. “I know how difficult it is for my wife. Where it used to take me 20 minutes to get ready, it’s a two-hour process now. It’s definitely an impact on the family. We don’t do things the way we used to anymore.”

Gregoire left Boston on Nov. 25. He and Cathy are living in an Augusta house loaned to them by a friend. They are undecided about what to do with their Whitefield home, which cannot be made wheelchair-accessible. Bob Gregoire said if he’s not walking by next spring, they may put it on the market. The couple on Friday was closing a deal on a wheelchair-accessible van. They live each day as if there will not be any more improvement, and they celebrate together when they discover that there is. They focus on the moment without trying to predict the future.

“Maybe I’ll walk again; maybe I won’t,” Bob Gregoire said.

And he is not about to put his life on hold waiting to find out.


Gregoire will return to work Jan. 2. He will be on full duty, other than the few hours he must miss each week for therapy. The state requires police to carry a gun on duty, but Gregoire plans to seek a waiver from that requirement that is granted to officers with disabilities.

Gregoire’s computer will be outfitted with a voice recognition program, similar to those already used in city schools, and he will be given a headset to talk on the phone. Gregoire’s biggest concern is navigating his way to the various meetings he will have to attend, some of which take place in buildings without wheelchair access.

“Mobility is a big concern of mine,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge. For the most part, other than my physical impairments, I’m the same old Bob.”

The duties may be more difficult, but the keys to Gregoire’s job — his leadership, wisdom and experience — were left untouched in the crash, Deputy Chief Jared Mills said.

“It’s just like everything else he does now,” he said. “He’s already overcome the basic challenges of the situation he’s in.”

Augusta police faced challenges in Gregoire’s absence, too. He praised their effort, particularly that of Mills, to run the department seamlessly during his absence. Gregoire said he always has believed in legacy building, the idea of each person learning the job of the person in front of them and teaching it to the person behind them.

“I’ve got a great staff,” Gregoire said. “They take great pride in their jobs.”

Among the things Mills said he learned during his term as interim chief is the effectiveness of Gregoire’s training.

“The first thing I learned was how well the chief prepared me to the job, which is a sign of a great leader,” Mills said. “It really was a smooth transition.”

Mills acknowledges now that there was a time early on when he wondered whether Gregoire ever would be able to come back.

“It’s like somebody was taken away from you and now they’re back,” Mills said. “We were a great team before. That team is back now. It’s a phenomenal feeling.”

The Gregoires got countless hugs and handshakes from city employees during Friday’s Christmas party. It was Gregoire’s first foray into the building since the accident.

“I am just delighted that Bob is ready to return to work,” City Manager William Bridgeo said. “That sentiment is shared unanimously in the Police Department and on the City Council.”

Mills said he polled supervisors and staff members about the chief’s return and didn’t find even a hint of concern or hesitation.

“It’s a huge boost for our department,” he said. “I think it’s definitely good for him and good for us.”

The list of things for which the Gregoires are thankful is topped, perhaps, by the outpouring of concern they’ve received from friends and neighbors, many of whom they’ve never met personally.

Cathy Gregoire estimated they got more than 2,000 cards that were mailed to the hospital or delivered to the police station. There have been acts of kindness that have lifted their spirits, such as the men in their neighborhood who came to chip ice from their driveway so the Gregoires would have no trouble getting in and out. Then there is the staff at CMMC and Spaulding, not to mention the ambulance attendants, who treated the couple with compassion and care that still give them comfort.

“It’s another reason to be thankful,” Bob Gregoire said. “We’ve never felt alone through this whole thing. I think all around, we’re pretty fortunate.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4