Once winter arrived, the Gilbert family could always be found on the ice.

The family’s patriarch, Origene Gilbert, built a skating rink every year for his six children on a vacant lot next to their home on Eaton Street in Lewiston. Every Sunday, the family would shovel snow off Sabattus Pond for their weekly hockey games.

“It seemed like we always skated,” daughter Lorraine Lavoie recalled from her home in Michigan. “We were a family on ice. We played hockey as a family.”

Youngest son Richard followed in the family tradition, but his interests dramatically changed at age 9 after he saw his first skating show by the former Lewiston-Auburn Skating Club.

“He came running up to me and said, ‘That’s what I want to do,” said Lavoie, recalling his wide-eyed enthusiasm. “I didn’t take him too seriously at the time.”

Richard Gilbert was serious. From that moment, he left the hockey pucks behind and skated toward a life of spins, jumps and lifts. A medalist at the national level, he represented the United States in the 1967 World Championships. Narrowly missing the Olympics, Gilbert skated professionally for a couple of years with the Ice Capades and became a renowned teacher and coach of young skaters.

Gilbert, who died of bone cancer in 1997 at age 54, will be inducted into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.

“He was a wonderful skater, a wonderful partner,” said Faye Marshall, Gilbert’s skating partner with the Ice Capades. “He was very observant. He had wonderful teachers in Boston, but he was almost self-taught. Richard was so analytical. He would figure out how things were done.”

Gilbert began figuring out how things were done at an early age.

Before that fateful day at the ice show, Lavoie recalls twisting and spinning her youngest brother while playing on the ice, but never imagined where that would lead. Gilbert soon joined the local skating club at the former St. Dom’s arena and in Brunswick.

After graduating from St. Dom’s in 1961, Gilbert moved to Boston to continue his development, winning the Eastern junior pairs championships in 1963 and the Eastern senior titles in 1965 and 1966. The next year, Gilbert teamed with Betty Lewis to win the bronze medal in pairs at the North American Championships.

As one of three pairs teams skating for the U.S., Gilbert and Lewis placed 13th in the World Championships in Vienna in a competition dominated by the famed Russian pairs champion Protopopovs.

After serving as an alternate at the 1968 Olympics, the duo tried out for the Ice Capades. According to Marshall, only Gilbert was selected.

Marshall, who skated for Canada in the 1964 Olympics, had joined the Ice Capades without her partner and was performing with the chorus. Once she learned Gilbert had no partner, she introduced herself and asked to skate with him. Their chemistry on ice was immediate as they snuck in skating sessions during their breaks.

“When the choreographer saw what we were doing, he was amazed what we were able to do in such a short time.” Marshall said.

The show quickly added the pair to their list of featured performers. They became the first featured artists to perform after the opening number. Marshall proudly says that their performance and artistry often surpassed those of the Olympic and world medalists who received top billing.

They left the Ice Capades in 1970 and moved to Vancouver to begin a career of coaching and producing figure skating shows.

“We had a wonderful teaching career together,” said Marshall. “We had local champions, national champions.”

Gilbert was a master of putting together music and designing sets. His sister Lavoie believes that knowledge of staging began as a youngster when his other sister Georgette bought his first Erector Set.

He also invented a pairs move known as the guillotine, said Marshall. The move is a variation of the camel spin when the male’s leg whips over the head of the female skater.

Since his death, the Skating Club of Victoria presents the annual Richard Gilbert Award for outstanding artistry in pairs or dance skating. Lavoie says the last time she visited the Boston Skating Club, they still had a picture of Gilbert on the wall. She also recently talked to one of his former pupils who had named her son after her brother.

Marshall, who still gets emotional talking about her beloved partner, will by flying from Vancouver to attend Sunday’s ceremony at Lost Valley.

“He was so funny, yet so serious,” Marshall said. “He was such a wonderful fellow. I felt like he was my guardian angel when I was in the show.

“I feel that he’s still my guardian angel.”


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