Melvin Gagnon, 92, a longtime Davis resident, passed away on Dec. 31, 2022 at a private care facility in Davis, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Born Feb. 26, 1930 to Joseph and Rose Gagnon in Artesia, CA, he grew up in Buena Park, CA, as the youngest of 6 siblings. Growing up during the depression and losing his dad at 9 years old, taught Mel resourcefulness, resiliency and “how to make do.” Later on, he taught himself how to fix, repair or build just about anything. He shared these valuable skills with family and friends throughout his life, always willing to build a shelf, fix a sticky door or help with a remodeling project.
He attended Fullerton Union High School, graduating in 1947. A favorite high school memory was flying to Minnesota in a WWII plane that had been rebuilt by his high school buddies. Mel carried a picture of that plane in his wallet his entire life. Also while in high school (and Junior College) he worked weekends and summers at Knott's Berry Farm taking pictures of park visitors and developing a lifelong love of photography. After high school he attended Fullerton Junior College and later transferred to San Jose State to study journalism and photography.
Mel married his high school sweetheart, Carol Riley, in 1950 and after graduating from college in 1951, he and Carol moved to Yuba City, CA, where he took a job as a reporter/photographer for the Appeal Democrat in Marysville. In 1955 he moved to The Sacramento Bee, covering agricultural and human interest stories. After one of his photographs of then Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown ran on the front page of The Bee, Mel received a personal letter from the Governor expressing his delight with the photo.
Mel and Carol, who now had seven children, moved to Davis in 1962. In 1966, after 11 years with The Bee, Mel began a 21 year career at UC Davis with Cooperative Extension as a communications specialist writing about the research developments of UC agricultural scientists. Mel’s friendly nature along with his curiosity served him well as a journalist, reflecting, “I’m grateful for a wonderful career in writing that allowed me to explore–and share with readers–all the beautiful people, places, history and ideas to be discovered in our world.”
Retiring from UC Davis in 1987 gave Mel lots of time to pursue his passions. He traveled the world with trips to Easter Island and the Galapagos being favorites. He enjoyed the arts and was a longtime supporter of the Davis High School Madrigal choir, the Pence Gallery, the Elk Grove Strauss Festival and the Sacramento Theatre Company. Another passion was people. With his outgoing and gregarious personality he was always befriending new people from all walks of life. He treasured relationships and loved visiting friends and family, usually bringing something to share like homemade soup, fruit or veggies from his backyard garden, or a newspaper clipping (or several) of interest.
Of course, his biggest passion was his family. He lovingly and enthusiastically supported them in all their various endeavors, whether it be attending a grandkid’s talent show, running errands for a son’s business, or getting on board with another son’s plan for an authentic luau (which included digging a pit in the backyard and lining it with lava rock to roast the pig). To him, being there for each other was what family was all about. Through lots of family camping, backpacking and road trips, Mel shared his love of the outdoors and exploring with his kids while they were growing up. He instilled in his kids the values of hard work and responsibility, a “can do attitude” and a love of life.
You taught us well Dad, you will be missed!
Mel is survived by six of his seven children–Dan (Jerrie) Gagnon of Cordova, AK, Kati (Skip) Mezger of Sacramento, Jeff (Jodi) Gagnon of Marysville, WA, Andy (Laurie) Gagnon of Woodland, Don (Sally) Gagnon of Woodland and Marcia (Ted) Parker of Stockton. His daughter Kim (Tom) Graham, predeceased him in 2013. He is also survived by numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, one great-great grandchild and his ex-wife, Carol Kearney. Predeceased by longtime companions Dorothy Chichester and Virginia Nordgreen.
A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 11:00 AM at the California Agriculture Museum (1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, CA).