BRATTLEBORO -- Bob Gannett was simply from another time.
And when he died from heart complications last month at the age of 94, a chapter closed on Windham County politics.
Gannett was a Brattleboro attorney, and a Republican, who served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1953 to 1960 and then in the Senate from 1973 to 1992.
He is remembered as a man who grew up in a privileged Boston family, and attended Harvard, but who also could walk into a Bellows Falls bar in the afternoon to court votes.
He left his impression on countless projects around his adopted home in Brattleboro, and also quietly supported any young, unseasoned politician who was wading into the waters of Vermont politics for the first time and looking for direction.
He was recognized as an intelligent and visionary thinker who was able to foresee a successful ski industry, a new form of town government and the power of bipartisan agreements.
When Gannett retired from the Vermont Senate in 1992 an upstart Representative from Putney named Peter Shumlin ran for his seat.
Shumlin became a powerful state senator, and then governor, and he said Gannett has been a political role model throughout his career.
"I knew when I was elected to the Senate that I had some very big shoes to fill," Shumlin said. "I grew up with Bob Gannett. It feels like I've always known him."
Shumlin said Gannett's education, history, intelligence and
But whenever Shumlin sought Gannett out he made himself available, and Shumlin said many of Gannett's words helped him navigate the sometimes bumpy waters in the Vermont Statehouse.
"When I was elected to his seat he directed me toward the people he thought I should work with and build relationships with," Shumlin said. "He was careful not to dispense advice but he was always there when you asked for it. And he never said anything bad about someone. Bob Gannett believed in bipartisan compromise and he cared deeply about doing what was right for Vermont."
As Shumlin rose through the ranks of the Senate, eventually becoming President Pro Tem of the body, he counseled with Gannett.
One of the people Gannett urged Shumlin to contact was Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, who today is one of the longest serving and most powerful lawmakers in Montpelier.
Mazza has been serving in the Statehouse since 1973, the same year Gannett returned to the Senate, and the two men, from opposite ends of the state, worked closely and became good friends.
"To this day, when I am leading a hearing, I think, ‘How would Senator Gannett handle this?'" Mazza said Friday from his store in Colchester. "He taught me so much. It was such a pleasure to work with him."
Even though Gannett was a strong and respected lawmaker, who other legislators would often go to for advice and counseling, Mazza said a you could learn as much simply from watching Gannett.
"He knew how to make people comfortable. He treated everyone with respect," Mazza said. "When he was leading a committee, even if he didn't agree with what was being said, he would sit there with his pencil, never a pen, and listen. He was a true leader."
Gannett and his wife were strong supporters of the Long Trial and Gannett made sure there was money for the trail in every state budget.
Mazza has never been on the trail but he still makes sure there are state funds in every budget for the Long Trail to honor Gannett.
Gannett was born to a prominent Boston family in 1917.
He graduated from Harvard College in 1939, and received a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1942.
In August 1941 he married Sarah Alden Derby, a granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
Gannett served in the field artillery of the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, eventually achieving the rank of major.
He fought in Europe in 1944 and 1945.
In 1946 he came to Brattleboro to practice law.
He was elected to the House as Brattleboro's lone representative in 1953 and was an early supporter of legislation that restricted road side advertising.
He also helped develop the state's fledgling ski industry by finding state funding for the industry and by committing state funds for access roads.
He left the Vermont House in 1960 to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, a race he lost to then-incumbent Governor Robert Stafford.
He ran for the Senate in 1972 after the retirement of Stoyan Christowe.
Michael Obuchowski, the long serving House member from Bellows Falls and current Commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, said even though Gannett came from a wealthy Boston family and enjoyed a successful law practice, he was never uncomfortable meeting with any Vermonter.
One day when the two lawmakers were strolling through Bellows Falls, looking for votes, Obuchowski had to leave and he recommended that Gannett go talk to some potential supporters in Nick's Bar & Grill.
"He just strolled in in his suit coat and suit pants. You had to be impressed with him. He was a gentleman's gentleman. He was really from a different era," Obuchowski said. "And from all reports he picked up some votes that day. His education taught him that democracy makes all people equal and that's how he conducted his version of democracy."
As Speaker of the House, Obuchowski, a Democrat, said he spent countless hours hammering out the state budget with Sen. Gannett.
Obuchowski said the negotiations were always cordial and productive and he learned lessons about making concessions and compromise that resonate to this day
"He treated everyone with dignity and respect, and anyone who worked with him rose to a higher level because of how he conducted himself," said Obuchowski. "He let you know what he expected and he let you know if you crossed over a line."
Along with his accomplishments in Montpelier, Gannett worked tirelessly for organizations throughout Windham County.
During his time outside of the Statehouse, between 1960 and 1973, he was co-chair of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital fundraising campaign and the Gannett building on the BMH campus still bears his name.
He served as a trustee for the Brattleboro Retreat and was named Man of the Year in 1969 by the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce.
Over the years he sat on committees for the Winston Prouty Center, the Southern Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Community Foundation, the Green Mountain Club, The Snelling Center, Harris Hill and the Brattleboro Rotary Club, of which he was a founding member.
One of his most important contributions to Brattleboro came in 1959 when he crafted, and passed, legislation establishing the Representative Town Meeting that continues today.
Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray said Gannett's legacy will survive far into the future.
DeGray said even people who might have never heard of Gannett will benefit from his life's work.
"Brattleboro was always first and foremost for him. He will have a lasting legacy here," said DeGray. "He was a great legislator. He was the father of our unique form of Town Meeting. He had a passion for politics and the town will always benefit from that."
Long time Town Meeting Moderator and former Speaker of the House Tim O'Connor first remembers meeting Sen. Gannett when O'Connor was a young man delivering groceries for the Brattleboro Public Market, a small Main Street grocery store.
O'Connor said Gannett always had cookies and a drink for the young delivery boy when he arrived at the Gannett residence on Pleasant Valley Road.
Over the next 50 years, as O'Connor became an attorney himself and went on to serve in the Statehouse before taking on the role as Town Meeting Moderator, the two men became friends, with Gannett always guiding and teaching the younger O'Connor.
O'Connor served in Montpelier from 1969 to 1980, and when he was Speaker, Gannett was a powerful and respected Senator who served as a mentor for O'Connor.
"Every year at the end of the session we worked closely together to make sure the important pieces of legislation got done," said O'Connor. "He had great vision about what needed to happen."
And every year, as O'Connor prepared for Town Meeting, he would get together with Gannett to go over the local issues that town residents were going to tackle that year.
"He knew everyone in town and he always wanted to know what was going on. I always wanted to get a reaction from him on what we were going to discuss," said O'Connor. "The town owes him a great deal of credit for creating this type of representative town government."
Gannett's friend Chuck Cummings opened his own law practice in Brattleboro in 1957 and the two became friends.
Cummings said Gannett's work encouraged him to join community organizations.
Throughout Gannett's work in the Legislature, and around Windham County, there was a constant to how Gannet spent his time.
"He was a very caring person. He was always concerned with the lives of other people," Cummings said. "He was interested in helping people and he really cared about making this a better place to live."
Services for Sen. Robert Gannett will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, at 10:30 a.m. at the Centre Congregational Church at 193 Main St., with a reception to follow at Brattleboro Country Club.
Donations in Gannett's name can be made to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, or to any of the many organizations he supported throughout his life, his family said.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.