The following eulogy was delivered at the memorial service for Virginia Cassin, longtime Oak Park activist and booster, held at St. Edmund Church on Oct. 15:
For the 20 years that Ginie Cassin served as the Oak Park village clerk, I worked with her at village hall, first as a law clerk and then as village attorney. During that time, Ginie and I became forever friends.
We worked together on an endless number of projects and issues over those 20 years and Ginie always made it easy for me. It didn’t matter what the issue was, she brought everything she had to the table, and her gifts were many — her energy and passion limitless, her integrity beyond reproach, her creativity and insight invaluable. To top it off, she was a great listener.
At one time or another Ginie, as village clerk, had responsibility for an extraordinary number of village functions. In addition to the responsibilities normally associated with a municipal clerk’s office, she also had responsibility for things like animal control, the real estate transfer tax, special events, and many other things.
When you asked Ginie for help, she always said “Yes.” The functions I just mentioned and many more, found their way to the Clerk’s Office simply because she was willing to take them on at a time when no one else seemed able to. It goes without saying that each and every one of these functions were performed well. You could always count on Ginie.
You might be wondering when she found the time necessary to perform all of this work. The days tended to be a constant barrage of people and meetings. Much of the work required time and quiet to think and do research and was done in the evening. Ginie and I were part of a small group of people known as “the night shift.” Many evenings, I would be in my office on the north end of village hall, and I would need a copy of an ordinance or resolution or a set of minutes. I would look out my door and see Ginie’s light on at the south end of the building and walk down to her office and ask her for whatever I needed. More often than not, she would be able to find what I needed right then and there. I remember thinking how blessed I was to have Ginie to work with. We accomplished a lot in that way. Sometimes on those evenings, we would even solve many of the world’s problems.
At the end of the night, Ginie would call Bill and he would fetch her in the WAC-mobile — so named for its William A Cassin license plates. It was amazing how many places in town I would see the WAC-mobile in the course of any given day. Ginie never stopped serving the village, and Bill was there to support her every step of the way.
I have a thousand stories I would love to tell, but one story captures her essence. It took place near the beginning of my time with the village and more or less set a trajectory that guided me for the rest of my career there.
Ginie was one of the first people I met when I began working for the Village of Oak Park in June of 1975. I was one of a group of employees who had been hired around the same time through a federal program called CETA.
Within days of our being hired, Ginie invited us to have lunch with her at a little restaurant on North Avenue called Royal Oaks. She greeted us with a genuine warmth that made us all feel like we belonged. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the first of thousands of times over the next 45 years that I would have the privilege of witnessing and experiencing the kindness and respect that Ginie exhibited toward everyone with whom she came in contact. No matter who you were, when you met Ginie, you knew you were important to her, and that you were being listened to.
Although Ginie’s warm welcome was important to us, and much appreciated, she had more to say that day to this group of new village employees than simply “Welcome.”
Midway through the lunch, she stood up and asked for everyone’s attention. Without ever shedding that kind and respectful demeanor, she began to speak with a passion and determination that let us know what she was about to say was very important to her. Her message was a simple but powerful one, and in its timing and simplicity, as well stated as I have ever heard it.
As new village employees, she said, it was important that we understood the core values of the village from the start. Good government and equality were bedrock values of the village, she said, and these values guided the village in all it did. Good government and equality may not seem like unusual or extraordinary values for a municipality to have, she added, but unfortunately they were not as commonly held as they should be. It was one thing to say the words but quite another to live them, and the village aspired to live them each and every day. She told us it was important that we understand our actions needed to be guided by these same principles. To drive that message home, she cautioned each of us to be sure this was a commitment we were willing to make because it was a commitment that the village expected us to keep.
Ginie threw down the gauntlet that day. Her message was clear, unmistakable and from the heart, and she made us stop and think. Every one of us walked out of Royal Oaks Restaurant that day with a clear understanding of the commitment she asked us to make to this village. Many of her special qualities were on display that day, but they were never more present than when she brought them to bear in the service of the village she loved.
Ginie challenged us that day with a passion and commitment I have never forgotten. Thank you, Ginie. Love you always.
Ray Heise is the former village attorney of Oak Park.