Remembering Catherine Cassidy – Faith, Family, Friends

by Gloria Nardi-Bell

We know Catherine as the powerhouse from CCAS.  Catherine - the intrepid lawyer who (with Patricia Wallace) created the first all-women law firm in Hamilton.  Catherine - the paragon of legal analysis, decorum, level-headedness, and wisdom; the lawyer who maintained the same legal assistant from 1981 to retirement in 2014.  Catherine - the dedicated volunteer.  Catherine - a recipient of the Patricia Wallace Community Service Award. These are profound achievements, no doubt.  But there is another side to Catherine which deserves honouring.  Catherine the faith-driven daughter, sibling, wife, mother, and grandmother, with a dry sense of humour and an atrocious sense of direction.  Red was her favourite colour.

Catherine was born on February 25, 1951, the 5th of 7 children born to Roman Catholic, Irish, French-Canadian parents.  Catherine cherished her family roots and Stoco, her hometown near Tweed, Ontario.  Catherine grew up on the family homestead, purchased by her grandfather before 1903 and passed down to Catherine’s dad who continued the family’s farming tradition of raising livestock and growing crops.  While all 7 children pursued professional careers, Catherine’s youngest brother acquired the farm, after his retirement, and has continued the farm operation.  How marvelous that the Cassidy family has successfully maintained a century farm in Ontario.

Catherine’s formative years were spent in idyllic, rural Ontario.  She showed spunk at an early age.  Although Catherine minored in French many years later, she spoke not a word of the language in childhood.  This left her miffed when visiting her maternal relatives in her pre-school days.   The adults spoke French with each other and English with the children.  Asked how she had enjoyed her visit, Catherine answered, in frustration, “no, no, no, French, French, French” – Catherine’s way of objecting to adult-only conversation. 

Catherine started school in a one-room schoolhouse within walking distance of home along a rural road -- grades 1 through 8, one room, one teacher, no noise allowed.  Perhaps this is where Catherine learned to focus and enjoy reading.  By grade 3, Catherine and her siblings transferred to St. Carthagh Catholic Elementary School in Tweed. 

Catherine read everywhere.  Her favourite spot was the family’s apple orchard. She loved climbing the trees and sitting in the branches, reading for hours.  When hunger struck, Catherine routinely enlisted the “covert operations” of her younger siblings as “lookouts”, allowing Catherine to enjoy an apple originally earmarked for market sale. Catherine’s love of books was a constant feature of daily life.  The children had chores, including washing dishes.  It was not unusual to see Catherine approach the kitchen sink, tea towel in one hand and book in the other.

Catherine was athletic, playing high school basketball and running track.  The Cassidy children didn’t have to go far to suit up for a baseball game at the drop of a hat.  While the Cassidy parents were raising 7 children, an adjacent farm family had 9 children, and another neighbour had 8. 

Catherine learned the value of hard work from her parents.  While Mr. Cassidy tirelessly ran the farm and volunteered extensively in the community, Mrs. Cassidy was a homemaker and teacher.  She was self-propelled in that career, growing up on a farm and attending school “in town” by horse and buggy.  She attended teacher’s college in Peterborough and returned home to teach, requiring her to walk 8 km. daily.  This young teacher gave up her career when she married.  Her career became wife and mother, but she upgraded her teaching skills by further training.  She returned to teaching when her youngest child was almost school-aged.  This work ethic was instilled in Catherine.    

In 1969, Catherine enrolled at the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College) where she met Jim, her future husband, when they were both in 3rd year.  Catherine graduated with a major in English and a minor in French.  Then, she enrolled at U of T Law School.  Catherine and Jim were married in 1975.  Catherine articled in Kitchener, and then joined Patricia Wallace in private practice.  In 1986, Catherine joined CCAS so that she could spend more time with her family.

While Catherine and Jim were pursuing careers in the Hamilton-Brantford corridor, Catherine’s passion for Stoco continued.  And so, they bought a plot of waterfront land around Tweed and built a home where their growing family spent all vacations and holidays.  Jim drove and navigated since Catherine couldn’t read a map and was regularly car sick.  Catherine was in purgatory whenever Jim chose a “scenic route”.  Jim’s and Catherine’s ability to maintain homes near both sides of the family allowed their children, grandchildren, and the extended families to develop close and lasting inter-generational ties.

The family has seen its share of sorrow.  Both Catherine’s and Jim’s parents have passed away, and sadly Catherine’s oldest sister and a nephew predeceased her.  But sadness is always tempered by joy.  Catherine and Jim have raised two daughters and have been blessed with two grandchildren.  Although both worked full-time, Catherine and Jim always put home-cooked meals on the table and had time to help with homework, piano lessons, hobbies, playing board games, and doing puzzles on the floor with her granddaughter. Catherine made Hallowe’en costumes, and with some trepidation, assisted her grandson with the care of a 20-gallon tank of tropical fish and  an occasional snail.  Catherine loved shopping and getting her hair done with her younger daughter.  Catherine loved cooking, courageously tackling  unusual recipes like candied ginger chutney and cheesecake with her older daughter’s assistance.  At Christmas, Catherine always made “nuts and bolts” as a special snacking treat.  Her grandson plans to continue this tradition. 

Catherine was caring and respectful.  She never flaunted her intelligence or her knowledge.   Catherine was insightful, genuine, sincere, sensitive, generous of heart, but determined and stubborn.   She has left us a legacy of ardently and fairly advocating on behalf of family, friends, and clients. 

Catherine left us on January 3, 2021.  Let’s honour Catherine by embracing her air of humble confidence and principled professionalism.