Rick’s deepest satisfaction in life was found within his family. He was a loving son and brother, an enthusiastic uncle, and a devoted husband, who relished fatherhood and rejoiced in his children.
An ardent fan of Irish music, Rick became an accomplished penny whistle, tenor banjo, and cittern player while still in college. He played in the band DunCreagan with Tom McKean, Carrick Eggleston, and Kelley Bishop from 1981 to 1994. He started the Irish music session in Bloomington, Indiana, where he played for several years with Reel to Reel. In Jackson he played with Legacy and Spirits of the House, and he played and led workshops at CelticFest Mississippi from 2005 to 2013. He participated in Irish music sessions from New England to Mississippi for over 30 years and composed approximately 100 tunes, many of them now widely played.
While at Dartmouth College, Rick began a career of meticulously documenting the work of colonial gravestone carvers. In the months leading up to his death he was analyzing the verses on these stones as a genre of early American oral literature. He was an ethnomusicologist who wrote the definitive professional biography of the founder of the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, and a historian who was engaged in transcribing 19th century New Hampshire family documents and researching their historical context.
In 2006 Rick joined the English Department at Tougaloo College, where he was a demanding, dedicated, and encouraging teacher. He stayed in touch with current and former students and cheered all of their achievements. He spent many hours of his final weeks correcting and commenting on student papers. Ten days before his death he attended Tougaloo’s commencement to congratulate the 2014 graduating class of English majors.
Rick celebrated this world by building sand castles and snow forts, carving Halloween pumpkins, picking berries, and taking photographs. He showed love for people by joining them in music, cooking for them, playing with children, storytelling, and teaching, as well as through extensive activity on Facebook. He started and administered Facebook groups for musicians, family, classmates, and colleagues, responding to their interests and sharing his own with humor and zest.
Rick’s cancer diagnosis was made at a very advanced stage of the disease. He spent his last weeks as he had lived: working with students, revising an article for publication, and enjoying time with his beloved family.
Rick is mourned by a very large and loving extended family on both sides. Survivors in his immediate family are his father, Richard Homere Gagne of Ayer, Massachusetts; his mother, Margery Gagne of Lexington, Virginia, with Steven Sawicki; his brother Charles Gagne of Encinitas, California, with Laurel Gagne and their sons William and Peter; his sister Katharine Gagne of Arlington, Virginia, with Geof Hobday and their daughters Emma, Eleanor, and Evelyn; his wife of 28 years, Elise Morse-Gagne of Clinton, Mississippi; and his son David Morse-Gagne and his daughter Katharine Morse-Gagne. He is also survived by his parents in law, Tony and Dorothy Morse of Pelham Massachusetts; his sister in law Sophie Morse of Poulsbo, Washington; and his sister in law Anne Morse of Craftsbury, Vermont, with Kevin Gregoire and their children Jacob and Emily.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, June 8th, at 3 p.m. in Woodworth Chapel on the Tougaloo College campus in Tougaloo, Mississippi. A graveside service, with music afterwards, is planned for Saturday, July 19th, at 10 a.m. in Swiftwater, New Hampshire.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Office of Institutional Advancement of Tougaloo College, 500 W County Line Rd, Tougaloo MS 39174.