MANCHESTER — Funeral services are this week for Robert “Bobby” R. Rivard, a champion amateur boxer who was a leader in state and local politics for decades.
Friends and colleagues recalled Rivard as a gifted athlete and compassionate civic leader who inspired others to get involved in the community.
“He was a true statesman and a splendid human being,” longtime friend Bobby Stephen said Sunday. “Bobby didn’t preach. He acted.”
Rivard died Thursday at age 79 after a period of deteriorating health, his family said.
A lifelong resident of Manchester, Rivard served for more than 25 years as Hillsborough County register of probate. Rivard also was a member on the Manchester Highway Commission for two decades and served a term as Manchester’s Ward 8 alderman.
A fiscal conservative, Rivard was well known across southern New Hampshire as a political power broker — a Republican who could make deals with officeholders from both parties.
Stephen, a Democrat, said it was Rivard who first convinced him to make a run for office. Stephen was elected to the New Hampshire Senate in 1980 after defeating Paul Provost, who had held the seat for 24 years, in the Democratic primary.
“It was all on account of Bobby,” Stephen said. “He’d push me to go out — rain or shine. He always wanted to go door-to-door.”
Former Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he first met Rivard playing softball for Rivard’s Manchester Tire and Battery business team five decades ago.
“He will truly be remembered because everyone has an individual story about Bobby Rivard and it always started with someone going to Bobby for some help and he always figured out a way to say ‘yes,’” said Gatsas, elected last year to the state Executive Council. “I can never remember him ever saying no to somebody who came to him for help.”
At the close of that career as a register of probate Rivard tangled with court administrators who for years tried to convince the Legislature to strip the registers of probate of their administrative powers.
After 13 terms in the office, Rivard did not seek reelection.
After Rivard’s departure, court administrators in 2011 convinced lawmakers to complete that reorganization, which reduced the two-year elected term of registers of probate in all 10 counties to a department head in name only.
A U.S. Army National Guard veteran, Rivard was past chairman of the New Hampshire State Fire Control Board.
Before stepping into the political ring, Rivard was an accomplished boxer who won New England Golden Gloves titles in the late 1950s and served on the New Hampshire State Athletic Commission.
Stephen recalled Rivard as the best “pound-for-pound” fighter in New England, winning titles as a middleweight and light-heavyweight as an amateur. In 1959, Rivard advanced to the semi-finals at the Golden Gloves of Chicago, losing a split-decision and a spot in the championship bout that was won by a young fighter from Louisville named Cassius Clay — who won an Olympic gold medal the following year and went on to become Muhammad Ali.
“I boxed one more year, but I realized I didn’t have the discipline for it,” Rivard recalled to the Union Leader for a column in 2003. “Going into training was like going into jail. It was lonely.”
Rivard worked with Stephen to bring many boxing matches to New Hampshire while Stephen had chaired the state Boxing and Wrestling Commission.
“Bobby Stephen was the finesse fighter with all the footwork,” Gatsas said. “Bobby Rivard had hands of steel that could drop you with one punch.”
Stephen, who last spoke to his longtime friend a few weeks ago, said Rivard was “received with respect” throughout the Granite State and beyond.
“He was well liked. He was a gentleman. He had high principles and a solid character,” Stephen said. “He gave of himself freely to people and asked nothing for himself. That was Bobby.”
Services for Rivard are Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. Pius X Church on Candia Road in Manchester.