Robert Gagnon Sr.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Robert Gagnon Sr.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- As fathers are honored today in millions of homes, others will be warmly remembered. For some families, honoring their dad's memory on Father's Day will be a difficult first. Among those is the Robert (Bob) Gagnon family of Lowell, whose devoted husband and father, known by many as the "mayor of Endicott Street," passed away on May 27 after a period of declining health.

However, Robert, a decorated World War II veteran and graduate of St. Jeanne D'Arc School, Keith Academy and Boston College, left behind a unique legacy that his family and generations to come can embrace every day as a tool in striving to lead a life of truth and kindness.

That legacy is "The Three Gates.

THE GAGNON FAMILY THEN: Seated from left are Mickey, Anne-Marie, Susanne. Standing from left are Robert Jr., Denise, mother Claire Gagnon, dad Robert
THE GAGNON FAMILY THEN: Seated from left are Mickey, Anne-Marie, Susanne. Standing from left are Robert Jr., Denise, mother Claire Gagnon, dad Robert Gagnon Sr. and Michael.

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" Gate One: Is it kind? Gate Two: Is it true? Gate Three: Is it necessary?

The premise behind the gates is that whenever any of the six Gagnon children -- Denise, Susanne, Robert, Michael, Mickey, and Anne-Marie -- was tempted to speak unkindly, they were reminded, sometimes with just a look from their dad, to put it through the three gates first.

Passed down by his mother, Louise, those gates have largely shaped what has become the accomplished, close-knit and service-oriented family unit that the Gagnon family is today.

Others learned about the "Three Gates" during Robert's eulogy at his funeral Mass at St. Francis Church in Dracut, delivered by his daughter, Denise Trombly. Interest in "the gates" was piqued, emotions tugged, questions asked.


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It seemed for several who were at the funeral so basic, yet brilliant.

Robert's wife, Claire, remembers first learning about the Three Gates after meeting Robert's mother in 1949. Louise had a way of correcting someone without demeaning him, Claire said, adding that she could look at you and you knew one of those gates was left closed -- something her husband was capable of doing as well.

A GATHERING OF THE GAGNON SIBLINGS: Seated are Robert Gagnon Jr., left, and Michael Gagnon. Standing are, from left, Denise Trombly, Anne-Marie Bisson,
A GATHERING OF THE GAGNON SIBLINGS: Seated are Robert Gagnon Jr., left, and Michael Gagnon. Standing are, from left, Denise Trombly, Anne-Marie Bisson, Mickey Cockrell and Susanne Harris.

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Robert, who owned the former Gagnon's Department Store prior to his lengthy career with John Hancock Insurance, believed that if you tried your best to follow the gates, most of the time you would be kind and truthful, Claire said.

"It was a rather simple lesson that made us aware of our actions so that we were forever mindful of being respectful to others and to take responsibility for our actions," said Denise Trombly.

The eldest in the family, Trombly said her father's words always resonated with her as he had entrusted to her the task of being the example to her younger siblings. He never preached, she said, he would just simply ask if it was put through the three gates.

Shown with their dad, Robert Gagnon Sr., right, are Denise, Mickey, Robert Jr., Susanne and Michael Gagnon.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our
Shown with their dad, Robert Gagnon Sr., right, are Denise, Mickey, Robert Jr., Susanne and Michael Gagnon.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

"It was our father's gift to us to help us be the best individuals we could possibly be," Trombly said.

Daughter Sue Harris said the Three Gates, combined with her father's emphasis on R&R (respect and responsibility), was a handy guidance tool for her own behavior, adding that this philosophy has helped to keep her on the plus side of being a decent person who respects others and tries to do the right thing.

Son Mike Gagnon said the Three Gates was just the way his father led his life, never having a negative word to say about anyone. Though Robert would remind his children to go through the gates, Mike said he never judged anyone for not living up to the standard.

The concept was not always easy to grasp or follow, Mike added, so he often dismissed it when he was younger. But he has discovered over time that as long as you do the right thing for the right reasons, without any thought of "what's in it for me," "living the three gates is possible."

Daughter Anne Marie Bisson is the founder of Catie's Closet. It is named for her late daughter, Catie, whose compassion for classmates who did not have up-to-date fashions for school inspired this burgeoning non-profit that now has a distribution center neatly stacked high with fashionable, donated clothing. It has helped countless young children and teens feel accepted in Greater Lowell and beyond. 

Bisson has shared the Three Gates with others over the years and describes it as a way to stop and think before one speaks, putting another person's feelings before one's own need to be heard.

The Three Gates was not something she was conscious of until she was older, she said, adding that it's a difficult test to pass at times. Today, when something pops out of her mouth that perhaps should not have, she immediately remembers that she did not put it through the gates.

Mickey Cockrell, executive director of Catie's Closet and Trombly, distribution center manager, say that Catie's Closet is one of the direct results of their father's teachings. The close family collaboration required to kick it off and grow it so quickly, they say, was forged by not only Robert's fierce devotion to his wife and children, but also by the Three Gates and R&R.

"I'm really so proud of all six of us, how we're so bonded, and it's his gentle coaching over the years that brought us to where we are today," said Cockrell.

Cockrell shared a deep religious connection with her quietly faith-filled father, she said, reflecting how he would spend hours in prayer with his large collection of saints' prayer cards for the prayer intentions of others. She views the Three Gates as three gates of heaven connected to the Holy Trinity.

"I envision there are three gates that we have to go through to get to heaven, guarded by celestial angels," she said. "And I know my father paraded right through all three."