BRATTLEBORO -- When officials decided to build a park at the corner of Main and High streets in Brattleboro, some thought it should be named after long-serving state legislator Robert Gannett.
It fell to his friend Steve Morse to phone Gannett to see what he thought of the idea.
"He said, ‘If you value our friendship, you will stop these efforts now,'" Morse recalled. "And he abruptly hung up."
That drew a laugh from a crowd that packed into Centre Church Saturday to pay tribute to Gannett, who died Aug. 26 at his Brattleboro home at age 94.
Above a picture of the former representative and senator on the service's program was this title: "Thanksgiving for the life of Robert Tileston Gannett." Speakers adhered to that theme, remembering a thoughtful, humble and dedicated public servant who took little credit for leaving an indelible impression on Brattleboro and all of Vermont.
"He treated everyone with dignity and respect and graciousness," said the Rev. Mary D. Lindquist of St. Michael's Episcopal Church, where Gannett was a member. "We are here today to give thanks to this gift given to Bob Gannett from God."
Lindquist added: "May his life be an inspiration to us."
Gannett, a Boston native who moved to Brattleboro to practice law after World War II, served four terms in the state House from 1953 to 1960 and 10 terms in the state Senate from 1973 to 1992.
"There's not a former legislator more
Gannett also took an active role in many community organizations including Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Brattleboro Retreat. He was a founding member of Brattleboro Rotary Club.
However, friends and family recalled that Gannett and his wife, Aldie, went to great lengths to avoid taking credit for their work and contributions. That observation led to Morse's story about the park phone call, and he also said the Gannetts were frequent -- and, by their own choice, infrequently recognized -- contributors to nonprofits.
"I learned very early that the name ‘anonymous' was synonymous with the name ‘Gannett'," Morse said.
That does not mean, however, that the Gannetts were anything less than forces to be reckoned with when it came to supporting community causes.
"They always appealed to someone's best side, but neither of them took ‘no' for an answer," said Bill Gannett, one of the lawmaker's sons.
Governmental tributes have poured in since Gannett's death. But Saturday's speakers evoked more personal memories.
They spoke of a young Gannett patrolling centerfield for Harvard's baseball team and pitching pebbles toward the bedroom window of his future wife. And they recalled an aging Gannett doting on his grandchildren and his beloved dog, Toby.
"I think of him with a twinkle in his eye and a ready sense of humor," said another son, Bob Gannett Jr.
Gannett's sister, Dorothy West, rose from her seat to tell the crowd that she had been "so lucky" to share a deep bond with her brother.
"Bob, I'll miss you every single day," she said. "I'm so thankful we had 91 years together."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.