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Remembering Senator Gannett: A Vermont Community Foundation Founding Director

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The following guest post was written by Dave Rahr, founding president of the Vermont Community Foundation:

Senator Bob Gannett died last week—a month shy of his 95th birthday.  A legendary Vermont legislator, respected attorney, and community leader, he will be greatly missed by his friends at the Vermont Community Foundation, where he was a Founding Director.

Bob epitomized the character and steadfast commitment of all the Founding Directors.  He and his wonderful wife, Aldie, set up their own fund to be among the first to demonstrate the power and joy of giving through a community foundation.  As a savvy lawyer, wise in the ways of taxation and estate planning, Bob was a tireless and effective advocate.  

I always valued my visits with Bob on trips to Brattleboro.  Climbing up the creaky wooden stairs to his second floor office was like walking into a “time warp” or the movie set of a 1940’s black and white film—with well-worn furniture, faded draperies, and typewriters instead of computers.  He was especially fond of his “partners’ desk” … an appropriate reminder of the days when law partners worked on opposite sides of the same desk, sharing law books arrayed between them.  He always offered me the partner’s seat across from himself … but I must say that I felt more like a student learning from the wise veteran across the table. 

And as a trustee of private foundations and trusts, Bob was also a clever and strategic grantmaker.  He had a keen eye for leveraged grant opportunities and a poker player’s strategic perspective.  He could also spot grant proposals that were not well thought out or based on flimsy assumptions and rationale.  I remember one grantmaking meeting when he said he was unalterably opposed to a particular grant.  He sensed, however, looking around the table, that he was not going to be able to persuade his fellow directors to join him in voting against the award.  He quietly added, “I can count.”  The grant was made and as Bob had predicted, it was a flop.  He didn’t gloat … but he did on occasion needle his colleagues and remind them of their wayward votes.

This remarkable group of fourteen visionaries, Bob among them, came from nearly every corner of the state—some had served in the legislature or in statewide capacities, others were from the business, banking, and professional ranks, and still others were low-profile Vermonters who cared.  All of them were willing and effective volunteers and leaders of community-based and statewide organizations.  And back in 1986 they all shared a genuine excitement about establishing a community foundation in Vermont – an idea that had served so many communities across the country so well over the years.

The surviving Founding Directors are now down to seven.  Each time I learn of the loss of another, my heart sinks, at first … but then soars as I recall the excitement and the fun we had as a group focused on the challenge of starting a community foundation for Vermont from scratch.  Sure, there were periods of doubt and shaky funding.  We were sustained, however, by the belief that the idea of a community foundation had tremendous potential for Vermont; committed to creating an efficient and responsive entity that did interesting things, promoted and practiced responsible philanthropy, was transparent and nimble and accessible to all.  Bob Gannett was one of the bold, visionary founders whose integrity, common sense, and good will showed us the way.