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Lee Gaudette, Dan Desjardin: Like father, like son

In reaching out to men doing business in the Blackstone Valley who are grateful for the influence their dads had on them, in anticipation of Father’s Day, Vibes found Gerald L. “Lee” Gaudette III of Gaudette Insurance Agency Inc. and Dan Desjardin of Dan’s Carpentry Inc. Both owe much to the men they simply call “dad.” And in fact, in both cases, to their grandfathers.

Mr. Gaudette is the third-generation president of an agency based in Whitinsville that was founded in 1926 and is still growing. He began his employment with the firm after learning the basics of the trade at the Murphy agency in Hudson, in fulfillment of a rule his father had that family members had to have three years of “outside experience” before coming to Gaudette. Mr. Gaudette’s father, the late Gerald L. Gaudette Jr., who died in 2003, had another rule. “At home, there was no talk of work. At work, there was no talk of home,” Mr. Gaudette—wearing an open-necked shirt and loafers with no socks in observance of both casual Friday and the unofficial arrival of summer—said during an interview in his Plummers Corner office on May 29.

Mr. Gaudette’s personal and professional bearing has been greatly impacted by his grandfather, Gerald Sr., who he described as “old school,” and his parents. Mr. Gaudette’s dad earned deserved widespread recognition for taking an active role in the life of his community; among other accomplishments, Gerald Jr. was a cofounder and past president of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and a vocal advocate for a community college in the Valley—now “closer to reality” than ever, his son says.

His mother, Barbara (Hopkins) Gaudette, has been a stalwart on the Planning Board in the town of Northbridge for most of three decades.
Lee Gaudette is pictured at Gaudette Insurance Agency Inc. in front of photos of his dad and grandfather
Mr. Desjardin started Dan’s Carpentry, in Douglas, in 2007. He was working with a crew placing skylights in a home on Shady Lane in Douglas when Vibes caught up with him for a photo. He credits his father, Don Desjardin, and granddad, Ray, with inspiring him toward a career in construction.

“As a toddler I remember the wooden bench, hammer and pegs, the plastic toolbox, nuts, bolts and so on,” Mr. Desjardin said in an email. “These toys kept me busy for hours, always trying to do things just like my dad. Following my dad around the house was a constant lesson in just how useful all these tools could be.

“Dad always seemed to be fixing or building something. At the age of five, I used to see him sketching plans and planning a building project that would become our new home. My afterschool hours and weekends were filled with trips to the new jobsite, watching the magic of machines, tools and materials shape the landscape. He always encouraged me to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, so working in all kinds of temperatures and weather became natural.

“Relaxing play for me was making all sorts of creations with Legos, Lincoln Logs, erector sets, race tracks and so on. When it was finally time for vacation we would pack up and head for the Green Mountains in Vermont where my dad and his father built a camp back in the 60s.

“Actually my grandfather was a foreman for a local builder, so it was natural that my dad learned the skills of carpentry from his dad. I was only two when my grandfather passed away, but the stories of how he built that camp for his family have endured and subsequently it was our responsibility to maintain it.

“I supposed that as a child I learned that work and play sometimes mingled and out of that comes a respect for the labor of the generations before me. My grandfather always had an entrepreneurial spirit and dreamed of owning his own business. In addition to building his own home, he built and ran a second-hand store. As the years went on he bought a summer camp close to home and renovated it for full-time living. He also renovated an apartment building and a general store, always bringing in his family as laborers.

“My father was fortunate to have learned many skills from his father, which he passed on to me. However my dad did not encourage me to start my own business. He’d seen too many challenges faced by his dad financially. I on the other hand had learned that hard work and respect for others would eventually pay off. More than anything I embraced the challenge of utilizing the knowledge gained from my dad and grandfather to start a business of my own where I could use my skills and see the magic in the tools bring smiles to my customers.”

Like Mr. Desjardin, Mr. Gaudette draws inspiration from the example set by his father. “In a lot of ways I’m lucky to have had as long as I did with my dad,” Mr. Gaudette said. “He’s my role model in managing the business and with the community-engagement piece (Mr. Gaudette’s credentials include work with Alternatives, the Massachusetts Independent Insurance Agents, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and he and Realtor Marty Green founded the Blackstone Valley Education Foundation). Dad was good at pulling people together at the right place, right time.”

In part because of his dad, Mr. Gaudette is a believer in lifelong learning. He returned to school to earn his MBA at night “with small kids at home.” Those children have done well. Nicole is at American University, Caroline graduates this year from Worcester Academy, Peter is a sophomore at WA and Bobby (adopted) is a fifth grader at Whitinsville Christian School.

Mr. Gaudette and Mr. Desjardin have realized the hopes their fathers had for them, in succeeding as upstanding citizens.

Rod Lee is a long-time local writer and observer of the Blackstone Valley scene. Email him at [email protected].