BRATTLEBORO—There are few figures in the history of Brattleboro over the past seven decades who match the list of accomplishments of former state Sen. Robert T. Gannett.
“He never stopped having an interest in helping others,” said retired Brattleboro attorney Chuck Cummings. “He was a good friend to a lot of people, and a special friend to me.”
The longtime resident of Pleasant Valley Road died on Sunday at the age of 94, exactly one month shy of his 95th birthday. He leaves a considerable legacy of public service and civic engagement on behalf of his adopted hometown.
Gannett was born in Boston on Sept. 26, 1917. He graduated from Milton Academy, and then got his undergraduate (1939) and law degrees (1942) from Harvard University.
In August 1941, a year before his graduation from law school, he married Sarah Alden “Aldie” Derby, a granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.
During World War II, he served in the Army from 1942 to 1946 as a major in a field artillery unit.
The Gannetts came to Brattleboro in 1946. He became a member of the Vermont bar the following year, and embarked on a 60-year legal career.
In the early days, he was a law partner with James L. Oakes, who later served as Vermont’s Attorney General and as a U.S. District Court judge.
A longtime Republican, Gannett’s political career began in 1952, when he attended his first Republican National Convention as a delegate for Dwight D. Eisenhower. The experience inspired him to run for office.
He was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, serving between 1953 and 1959 and sitting on the Judiciary and Appropriations committees.
It was during that time that Cummings arrived in Brattleboro. When he and his wife Ann moved into the area in 1956, Gannett was one of the members of the local legal fraternity who helped get him started.
“He provided a good role model to follow in my day-to-day living,” Cummings said. “Over the years, there were a lot of things that I did because Bob wanted me to do them. I’ll always be indebted to Bob and Aldie for being such ardent supporters of me and Ann over the years.”
Gannett took time off from the Legislature to tend to his local legal practice, but he eventually returned to the Statehouse and served 10 terms in the Vermont Senate between 1973 and 1993.
There, he sat on the Finance, General and Military Affairs, Institutions, and Transportation committees.
“They called him ‘The Silver Fox,’ because he had so much skill in getting bills passed,” said WTSA Radio News Director Tim Johnson, who covered Gannett for most of his Senate career. “He was thoughtful, and respectful of other people’s views, but he was forthright about his own.”
One of Gannett’s big legislative accomplishments was creating the representative town meeting form of government in Brattleboro in 1959. He served as a Town Meeting Representative from the town’s first meeting until last year, when he stepped down.
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