THE LAST DAYS OF HARRY CASSIDY
DR. CASSIDY KNEW HE WOULD DIE WITHIN THREE WEEKS. HERE IS THE REMARKABLE ACCOUNT OF HOW A REMARKABLE MAN TIED TOGETHER THE LOOSE ENDS OF HIS LIFE. IT'S A STORY YOU'RE NOT LIKELY TO FORGET
EARLY ON Friday morning, Nov. 2, 1951. just as day was about to break. Dr. Harry M. Cassidy, alone in his room on the fifth floor of the Toronto General Hospital, died quietly in his sleep.
His death was not unexpected. For three weeks he had known almost to the day when he would die. A cancerous growth was spreading throughout his body He was beyond the help of medicine or surgery.
How Harry Cassidy spent the last twenty-three days of his life adds up to an amazing story of courage and selflessness. At some future day each of us, alone, must face in his mind the same crisis that he faced. His example provides strong and comforting testimony that man is capable of great fortitude when faced with a situation that demands it.
In his hospital room on Wednesday morning, Oct. 10, his doctors told him death was imminent. He accepted his fate without fear or complaint, remarking only, "There is less time than I thought." Then he set to work for the final "clearing of his desk.”
As Canada's outstanding authority in the field of social welfare, all his life he had made plans, years ahead, for the betterment of others. Now he had to plan for his family and his work after he was dead. W ith the help of his wife, Bea. he drew up a schedule for the final days so many hours for reading, working, sleeping and seeing relatives, friends and professional colleagues.
As a father and husband he first thought of those who were nearest to him. Long and precious hours were spent in intimate talk with his family, both individually and collectively Bea, Norah, 24, -Jane, 20, and Michael, 14 Their talks touched every phase of living finances, religion, choice of a vocation and %alues in life. Recalling these last days Bea Cassidy says, It was the richest period of our lives.” -lane, a McMaster University student, recalls, "He wasn’t thinking of himself but of us all and how we would live through the weeks, months and years ahead. It was his way of giving us strength." Continued on page 40
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The Last Days of Harry Cassidy
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All his life Cassidy who. at the time of his death was director of the University of Toronto School of Social Work, had been a social reformer, a passionate crusader for the betterment of his fellow man. He worked literally until he drew his last breath to ensure his work would go on.
There was unfinished business to be tidied up. He summoned to his bedside, from all over the country, a long list of university colleagues, leaders of private and government welfare agencies. They knew that he was dying. They approached the sick room afraid that they might add their sadness to his own. But once at his bedside their fear dissolved. Cassidy had no time to waste on self-pity. He dismissed his condition with the remark, “You know my condition. The chips are down. My only regret is that there’s still so much to be done . . From then on, Cassidy’s whole interest was focused on the visitor—his interests, his work, his future plans.
He was weak and in pain. He was kept alive only by saline and dextrose solutions fed through tubes inserted in the veins of his arm. Another tube was inserted in his nose to drain his stomach. Yet. in spite of all this, his spirit was so serene, so powerful and so optimistic that he gave no impression of physical illness.
Dr. AI Rose, a university colleague, recalls. "I kept wishing that if this was happening to me I could be half as strong. Here was a man dying and he was thinking of me, wishing good things for me. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before." Soon after visiting Cassidy. Professor Alan Klein observed to a friend. “I have just been in the presence of - great
Harry Cassidy had never belonged to any church: his beliefs never conformed to any conventional doctrine or dogma. Yet. till the vertlast, he had to face his doubts honestly. He told his friend Wilham Jenkins, minister of the First Unitarian Congregation. Toronto. “Religion is one of the things that I’ll have to leave in the category of unfinished business." He had an unshakable belief in the goodness of man and the existence of a cosmic force for good, but he couldn't accept the conventional belief in God or immortality. He frequently discussed religion with his visitors, many of whom
were outstanding university scholars and philosophers. But shortly before dying he confessed to his wife, “I always seem to come back to where I was.’’ In the closing days Bea Cassidy detected a certain wistfulness in her husband—a desire to believe more. But by now he was too weak to pursue the matter in long discussion.
Jenkins, as well as others who knew him. regarded Cassidy as a deeply spiritual person who had lived out his life in accordance with the highest ethical principles of religion. At twentyfour Cassidy had written, “I am keenly interested in social reform. I know where I want to get . . . but I am by no means certain of the path which I shall be satisfied to take.” Within ten years he had chosen his path. It was to be social work, a new profession which scientifically trains people to provide social-welfare services to those in need of them. Cassidy taught, lectured, administered, advised, wrote, organized and did research. To him social work was “a great battle in the cause of human welfare,” and “putting into practice the doctrine of the brotherhood of man.” His convictions grew even stronger during his fina! days. Thumping the bed with bus hand, he said. “It's a crusade—like a fiery cross.” There were tears in his eyes. “I can't put it into words—I'm no orator.”
Cassidy was the son of a farmer, bora near Vancouver in 1900. After graduation from high school he joined the army and had just succeeded in reaching the front lines in France when it was discovered that he was only sixteen. Hurried back to England, he was placed in the “Boy's Battalion“ and later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot. By the time the war ended he was eighteen and a lieutenant.
Back home he graduated from the University of British Columbia and a few years later, married Beatrice Pearce, a public-health nurse, who was to share and encourage his interest in social-welfare work. He was a brilliant scholar and was awarded a graduate scholarship in economics to the University of California. After receiving his doctorate from the Robert Brookin?s Graduate School of Economics. Washington. D.C., he taught at the University of North Carolina and Rutgers University. In 1929 he went to the University of Toronto as professor of social science.
Jobs were always looking for him. He was called to British Columbia to become director of social welfare: he went to the University of California to become dean of social welfare: later
he was put in charge of training administrative personnel for UNRRA. But he always returned to Canada. “I’m a Canadian and I want to remain one,” he explained. “It's easier for good ideas, when properly developed, to become public policy in Canada."
He returned to the University of Toronto in 19-45 to become director of the School of .Social Work. In the six years that followed he raised it from a third-rate school with a handful of students to one of the top-ranking institutions of its kind on the cont inent. At one time or another he was adviser to all three major political parties on welfare matters. The federal Department of National Health and Welfare sought his guidance. For them he prepared a thick black loose-leaf folder. A Canadian Program of Social Security, it is frequently consulted by top officials in the department. His lectures, articles and books influenced social legislation. A year before his death the United Nations sent him to Egypt to advise them on the organization of social services.
Cassidy felt the first symptoms of his disease early in 1949 From time to time he suffered mild pains in his side. When a thorough examination revealed a glandular swelling he was given appropriate treatment and placed on a special diet. The pain seemed to disappear for several months, then reappeared with increasing severity. In Jan. 1950 an X-ray revealed a bowel tumor, and a surgical operation was ordered. Later the surgeon told Cassidy, “It was a malignant growth. It may come back. You might live for another two to five years: on the other hand you might die of a heart attack at ninety."
Cassidy shared this secret only with his wife. Optimists by nature, the Cassidys felt the odds were in favor of a long life. But they felt certain preparations should he made. One of them was that Bea Cassidy started to build up a real-estate business so that she could earn her own living if the need arose. Another was that Harry should continue to live as full a life as possible.
Following a period of convalescence Cassidy resumed his busy professional and social life. There were lectures, articles, reports to be prepared. He attended dinners like those for Charlotte Whitton, the Mayor of Ottawa, and Dr. W J. Dunlop who was retiring from the staff of the university.
On March 29 Cassidy's close friend. Professor Charles Hendry, and his wife dropped in for a drink while on their way downtown to celebrate their twenty - fifth wedding anniversary. Cassidy insisted on playing them a record that he and Bea had made the previous August when they had celebrated their own twenty-fifth anniversary. The children were scattered all over the country and this was the way of reuniting them for the occasion. In the record the Cassidys described what they had done that day a few sets of tennis, some shopping and a banquet dinner. They recalled their wedding day. They had been married on August 1. at eight o'clock in the morning. “We used to tell our friends." he said, “that we were going to be married early in August." On the
morning of each wedding anniversary it was Cassidy's practice to send Bea a letter renewing the marriage contract. On this occasion, he said, he was so satisfied with the existing arrangement that he would like to renew the contract for another twenty-fix e-year term. As a gift he had commissioned artist Charles Comfort to paint a portrait of his wife. When Bea protested, he recalled the little boy in a Mexican village who had said to her. “Lady.
you are beautiful. 1 will always remember your face." Cassidy commented: “That's the face I want hanging in my living room" He ended the broadcast by saying. "We hope you kids have as much fun with the people you live with as we've had together during the past twenty-five years" By May 1951 Cassidy was again plagued by ill-health. Because he thought it might be of value to others he started to keep a little black diary, which he titled. Notes on the Illness of Harry M. Cassidy, in which the details of his sickness are carefully
noted. While in Washington from May 14 to 17 interviewing prospects to teach medical social work he recorded: “The pain keeps sending me back to the hotel . . " Describing his
difficulties in New York later he said. “It was like a nightmare: I don't know how I can travel any more."
In June he received a momentous appointment from the United Nations: to go to Burma for one year, starting Sept. 15, and co-ordinate all UN social and economic activities there. His symptoms now took the form of severe back pains, resembling arthritis. His
physician. Dr. Jacob Markowitz, strongly suspected that this might be the secondary characteristics of cancer but he felt he couldn't say anything about it. The X-ra> plates showed nothing. As Markowitz later explained. “Nothing makes a patient more indignant than to be wrongly told that he
In spite of the extreme discomfort Cassidy continued his professional activities. Although he had a temperature of 101 in mid-June he threw a cocktail party for officers of the Unemployment Insurance Commission
who were attending a. summer course at the school. He moved to his summer lodge, a delightful red frame cottage situated on a peninsula on Lake Muskoka. in the hope of improving his health. But it didn't help. On June 30 he recorded. "I am generally free of pain in the mornings when I am working. then I have to take aspirin at night I have to call for one or two codein tablets to settle me after two or three hours of tossing." When he found it difficult to sleep he put boards under his mattress: later he tried sleeping on the floor. His assistant at the school. Sophie Boyd, presented him with a reclining chair. Soon, most of the night was spent restlessly going between his bed and his chair. A little later he was writing, “I need codein each morning . . and more codein to get to sleep the pain is much
But still he wouldn't give up the idea of going to Burma. He summoned Prof. Charles Hendry, who was going to act in his place, to meet him at the school on the last day of July. The two men were alone in the staff room. Then, Hendry recalls. Cassidy did a strange thing. He carefully shut the door and then, despite the pain in his back, got up on a chair and closed the transom. Slipping into a comfortable seat he said. “Chick, it was cancer I had. I've got to tell you because it's the only way you'll understand why I'm going to Burma. My time is limited and this is one big job I can still do.”
On Aug. 27 the diary continues: "The doctor is optimistic. He thought I could be fixed up in time for Burma. I am taking deep X-ray therapy for my back three times a week.” But in a few days his hopes faded. His pain became agonizing, his voice weak. On Sept. 2 he wrote, after another medical check-up. "I can't take on a newenterprise at this time. Bea agrees with me." This decision was one of the greatest disappointments of his life.
He was now on leave from the school. The malady was tentatively diagnosed as Marie Strumfel's disease—a type of arthritis that ultimately leaves the back rigid By now Cassidy was spending most of the time on his couch in the study of his home in Rosedale. His legs started swelling, making walking even more difficult. He had trouble keeping his food down. He could no longer enjoy a drink before dinner. On Sept. 15 he noted, “Aspirin plus codein but still can't sleep flowers,
messages, phone calls from many kind friends.” On Monday, Sept. 24, his condition became so acute that he was admitted to the Toronto General Hospital.
This time Dr. Ray Farquharson and Dr. Jacob Markowitz could state with certainty that the cancer had returned. It was blocking the intestine which made it impossible to take nourishment in the normal manner. For the time being, they told Bea Cassidy, her husband could be kept alive only by the continuous intravenous feeding of saline and dextrose solutions. But one thing was certain—death was only a short time off.
Mrs. Cassidy almost broke down under the strain of the next few weeks. She knew her husband would soon die. while he didn’t. She could face illness and she could face death but she could not endure this new artificial relationship with her husband. "All our life we faced problems and made decisions together.” she says. "Now a barrier of pretense arose between us." At times the make-believe became particularly difficult. Once Cassidy recalled an incident from the early days of their marriage, when they had planned a trip to Bermuda. It had been repeatedly postponed. "Let's go
as soon as I’m better,” he urged. They phoned the travel agency to send a hatch of literature to the hospital and. together, they minutely planned a trip that she knew would never take place.
Bea confided to the doctors that she felt disloyal to her husband in keeping the secret from him. They reassured her: they were, by implication, slowly telling him the truth which he already suspected. Bea says, “I think Harry knew that he was going to die when he entered the hospital. But he didn’t let on. It was his way of protecting
On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 10, Farquharson felt his patient was ready to be told. While the doctor was making his daily morning visit Cassidy asked: “Is it a return of the old condition?”
“Yes,” replied Farquharson.
“How long have I got to go?”
“A week. Two weeks. Perhaps three weeks . . .”
Cassidy paled. That was when he said, “Thank you for telling me. There’s less time left than I thought.”
Bea, occupied with many of the responsibilities that had been suddenly thrust upon her, was not at the hospital on the morning that her husband received the news. It was not until four o’clock that site reached his Itedside. He appeared to be cheerful. “I’ve been trying to get you by phone " he said. “The doctor has told me. But I’m not finished yet. There are things I must do.”
A tremendous burden had been lifted from her shoulders. “Now that we were facing something definite together the whole pattern of our life changed." she says. “We got pencil and paper and planned for the future."
In the next twenty-three days about seventy people made their way to the sickroom. Some were summoned by the sick man, others were friends and acquaintances who wanted to see him. Bea reassured the x’isitors by telling them her husband knew the truth and that they could talk as honestly as they wanted to. Then she would bring them into the room and depart. "I didn’t want to spoil the privacy of Harry’s interviews,” she says.
Bea also spent long hours rushing off letters to friends all over the United States and Canada. “Harry is dying and he knows it.” she wrote. "He would like to hear from you. Write as frankly as possible. Tell him of your plans.” In the days that followed the response was amazing.
Scores of letters poured in from cabinet ministers, university presidents, students, stenographers, laborers—all friends or colleagues. The Cassidys were to hold sessions two or three times a day, during which Bea read the letters aloud. These letters were one of the greatest comforts to Cassidy during his dying days. “What came through to him,” says Bea, “was that he had helped a lot of people during his lifetime and that a lot of people loved
But, before arranging for the visits of outsiders, Cassidy wanted to make sure there would be a lot of time for his family. The Cassidys had always been a close family unit, used to working together. They would come to a joint decision on how to spend their holidays. On long automobile trips to California. British Columbia and Maine each would have a definite responsibility—driving, caring for the maps, handling the money, or keeping a diary. When Cassidy held a student seminar at his home the door would be answered by Michael, while Bea and the girls would later serve the refreshments. The children had a full share in planning their future. Once, Jane wanted to change from Bishop Strachan. t private school, to Jarvis Collegiate, a public high school. She was advised to write out all the arguments pro and con. then to discuss them with her parents. In support of her suggestion Jane pointed out that she would prefer to spend the privateschool fees on music lessons: furthermore. the collegiate would give her the opportunity of meeting a much wider section of the community. She won.
Cassidy had long conversations with his wife, recalling the past and all the happy times they had had together. They reread old letters—letters from the courting days when Beatrice Pearce was a young nurse. He discussed her future - finance, housing, and a host of other practical details. They planned how the family should spend the coming Christmas: not at home, this first
Christmas alone, but up at a skiing lodge in Muskoka. Together, they planned a trip for the family to British Columbia where both of them have many relatives and friends. They discussed funeral arrangements. They finally decided that the services should he conducted by Dr. Arthur Cushman McGiffert. president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, who was an old friend. The Cassidys and the McGifferts lived next door to each other in California. Their families each of them had three children used to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving together.
He was to see the children separately, as well as collectively, several times. Jane says. "1 wanted to see him hut I was frightened." She was comforted to find her father serene and confident -just as if he was preparing to take another of his many trips away from home. Sensing her tenseness he said. "Cry if you want to." She sobbed and tears moistened her father s ex es Just then there was a knock on the hospital door. "This place is as had as my office." said Cassidy. "They don't even give us enough time to have a good cry together " After the interruption they talked about Jane s school work and her career. He was pleased that she would he studxing social work at the school he had helped build. He spoke of the family’s life without him. It might be that Bea would want to remarry some day. “Give her your
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support if she does,” he said. “Especially make sure to explain things to Mikey. He's young—he might not understand." In parting he told Jane: "Don’t grieve for me. I’ve lived my life, and it’s been a good life. It’s yourself and the family you have to think of."
He saw Norah and Michael. Michael expressed an interest *in becoming a doctor. He encouraged him and expressed confidence in his ability. “But be the kind of doctor that treats the mind as well as the body,” he advised him. “Treat the whole person.”
Cassidy was to see his family as a group four times. In his professorial manner he referred to these gatherings as his “family seminars.” The talk at these sessions covered a wide variety of themes. One of them, which was held on a Sunday, was later referred to by Cassidy as his “Sunday school.” Bea read the Sermon from the Mount as well as other passages from the scriptures that expressed his social philosophy:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy .
He spoke of his own private concept of God: “All that is good and beautiful.” He raised the question whether he had given his children enough formal religious training. He had tried to do two things for them: help them to think for themselves, and instill in them a strong moral and ethical sense. His children reassured him. Only a short time before, Jane, on her own volition, had decided to join the Unitarian church. Michael was interested in the same congregation while Norah was attending the Anglican church. As for moral training, Norah recalled the time in California when her school choir visited the Mare Island naval hospital to entertain the sailors. As a souvenir she had brought away with her a little silver-plated spoon. “You were indignant and made me mail it back,” she said, “even though most of my friends had entire bracelets made up of the things.” At another “family seminar” Cassidy discussed his social values and the reasons he had for following his chosen career.
One of the first outside visitors was Prof. Hendry, who was taking Cassidy’s place at the school. He entered the hospital room sick with fear, accompanied by Bea. A big smile broke out over Cassidy’s face. “Come here old
boy,” he said. “And Bea —wind up my hed and get me my pipe. This is a time for celebration.”
“Within a split second,” Hendry recalls. “I was completely at ease."
Cassidy took the initiative in the conversation. "I suppose Bea has told you all. It’s a great disappointment because there are so many things I wanted to do." For the next two hours the two men talked about the future of the school. Foremost in Cassidy’s mind was a seventv-five-page memo he had only recently finished which described j plan to make the school into t centre for research in social welfare. As he often used to say, “Real progress in helping people can only come with research You’ve got to get the facts.” It was his greatest regret, he said, that he would not be able to translate this blueprint into a reality. He was cheered when Hendry promised to finish the job.
He then turned the talk to Hendry. Five years earlier Cassidy had induced Hendry, who was bom in Ottawa, to relinquish an important job in New York and return to Canada. "Are you sorry you came?” Cassidy wanted to know. He discussed Hendry’s professional future and the problems that would await him as director of the school. They parted, Hendry promising to return in a few days.
In developing the school Cassidy had scoured far and wide to find his teaching staff. He had managed to assemble a brilliant group of young men and women who were attracted by his dynamic personality and leadership. Now he wanted to see them. He felt a deep responsibility for them. He also wanted to encourage them, for it was only through them that his work could go on.
One of these was Morton Teicher, an American in his early thirties, who had been brought here to organize a teaching program in psychiatric social work. Bea escorted him into the room. As she was leaving, the tubes upon which the sick man’s life depended became blocked. He called her back. “She'll get it going,’ he said wryly. “If she doesn’t—we’re going to be in trouble." From then on the whole interview was concerned with Teicher —his work, his projected trip to the Arctic to study the Eskimos, his plans. At one point he recalled an outside job he had secured for Teicher. "Have you been paid for it yet?” Teicher dismissed the matter, saying that it would be arranged for. “I’ll tell Sophie about it,” he said. (Sophie Boyd, executive secretary of the school.) Teicher was paid before Cassidy died
He received Dr. Stuart Jaffary. a lanky Albertan, who taught penology
at the school. “He gave you the feeling that you put yourself out by coming.” says -Jaffary. Cassidy told him that earlier he had believed he had two years to go: now “the cleaning-up process” would have to be completed in a matter of days. Jaffary has done a considerable amount of work in improving penal conditions—work that was, in part, jointly planned with Cassidy. The sick man told him that he must continue his efforts, since the happiness of thousands of unfortunates depended upon it.
When Cassidy Listed a number of things he had not had time to finish Jaffary suggested that he look at the other side of the coin: he had been endowed with great mental and physical capacity and he had put them to good use. “What you have accomplished in your lifetime has been extraordinary.” Jaffary told him. Cassidy brushed aside the praise. He had never stopped to congratulate himself on what had been done. He was always eager to push forward to the next task—often with a haste that exasperated some colleagues. After an hour -Jaffary made a move to go. Cassidy said. “Stay . . . there’s no hurry.” Ten minutes later, when the time for final parting came. Cassidy held Jaffary’s hand in his for a long time in a tight embrace. “It was a personal gesture—but something more.” says Jaffary. “It was a gesture that his work would now have to be handed on to others. It was a conveying of trust and responsibility.”
In spite of his weariness and pain the visits continued: on some days there would be as many as eight visitors. One of his doctors observed, “I’ve never seen anyone so close to death who had such tremendous vitality and such « zest for living.” At one point, when he felt that he was falling behind in his schedule because of fatigue, he appealed to his doctors. They responded by including large quantities of vitamin B in his intravenous solution. This gave him renewed strength.
A pattern for each day emerged. His wife would come to the hospital each morning at eight and stay in or near the hospital room all day. Brushing aside the shadow under which she lived she managed to buoy the spirits of the sorrowing visitors before they approached the bedside. As she left the room after escorting visitors in Cassidy would give her a wink followed by a broad smile. During the times they had together between visits he often told her, “You have a much harder role than I.”
By now letters flooded in from all over the continent and from overseas. Bea’s reading of the mail became a highlight of the day. "Having friends who care at a time like this is a great comfort,” said the sick man.
A moving letter came from his old friend Arthur Cushman McGiffert, the theologian. It read in part. “How I have wished I could be with you. I have sorrowed for you and Bea; and raged at what is occurring . . One of the great phrases in the liturgy of religion goes something like this: in the presence of death we have learned the larger meaning of life.’ The sentimental and superficial elements in our culture have tended to make us scared to death of death and to push it out of our thoughts as an unwelcome intruder But here you are, our
choice and dear friend, going through the deeply shadowed valley. Do you find it yields new perspectives? . ”
Cassidy was deeply touched by a letter from the caretakers and charwomen of the old Economics Building on Bloor Street West, where the school of Social Work is located. They wrote: “We have been in touch with your
staff constantly . . We are all very sorry to learn of your illness. We will always remember the interest you had at all times in our welfare and also in our labor problems. When we found it hard going we could always depend on you for advice. Good-by for now, dear friend—hoping you have a peaceful rest. We will always remember you.”
A neighbor sént a potpourri of flora with a note attached: “A little green boxwood from the sunny side of the hedge at the community church some blue asters and daisies from the field by the river at the bottom of the bridge . . Red barberry from Vi’s
doorway all scarlet in the late sun. One small marigold from the gateway of a prominent member of the Liberal Party who was so busy working towards the next election that he didn’t see me . One green rosette from the lawn of the only man in the street who knows a middle-class value when he sees one . . . and „ few of next year’s buds and this year's berries from the vine on the front of the house from a couple of characters who thinkyou both a couple of very swell guys . .”
He continued to receive visits from his university colleagues. For two hours he talked with Dr. Sidney Smith, president of the University of Toronto, about the school and its future: the need to develop research. Later Smith said, “I have seen men die on the battlefield but Harry Cassidy was the greatest hero of them all. He taught me a lesson I will never forget.” He parted from John Morgan, an Oxfordeducated associate with the salutation. “Good luck and good-by . . . it’s been fun knowing you.”
With another staff member, Dr. John Machell, the talk quickly turned to religion. This was not unexpected, since before he entered social work Machell had graduated from the Hartford Theological Seminary. Cassidy told him that he found it hard to believe in personal survival. “Survival in personal influence, yes: but not in personal survival." Machell replied, “In the sight of God the kind of religion you have is the most important kind of all. Your life has been spent helping people.” Machell went on to say that if we lived good lives that kind of living would be taken into consideration.
“Then you believe in selective survival—that the good will be rewarded?” asked Cassidy wistfully. Machell said he didn't know. Cassidy said, “I must have a strong faith or I couldn’t go through this.” Deeply moved, that night Machell wrote the dying man a letter which ended:
I must not write you too long or I will tire you too much. Le: me close by saying quite simply that I thank our Eternal Father for the life of His servant Harry, who is and forever will be restlessly and courageously eager to help his fellow man at ar.y cost of mind ar.d body.
Cassidy s curiosity and interest in the matter of religious faith continued. One of his visitors was Rachel Denison, a close family friend with whom the Cassidys had once shared a duplex dwelling. A voracious reader she would often discuss philosophical ideas with Cassidy. She recalls that a year earlier, in the Denison living room over cocktails, the question was posed, “Is life worth living if there is nothing beyond?” Cassidy’s reply was, “Yes, this is enough.” In the long discussion that followed the dying man revealed that he had not moved much beyond his lifelong position. “There is a cosmic force for good. Man’s purpose was to do good and to add to the sum total of good in the world.” But there was
regret in his voice—regret that he hadn't enquired into the matter of religious faith more searrhingly when he was in full possession of his physical powers. He told another friend, Mrs. Roland Michener, who is completing her studies for a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Toronto: “I’ve been too busy for philosophy. The question of where do we go from here is fundamental. If death weren’t so sudden I would have found time to figure things out.”
The sick man felt that his strength was slipping away. But there was still work to be done so he again appealed to his doctors. They put a daily quantity of caffeine, a stimulant, into his solution, to enable him to receive more visitors. He summoned a group of six young men, members of the Liberal Party of Ontario, who had induced him to run for the leadership of the party a year earlier. With the fortunes of the party at a low ebb there was little immediate prospect of success. But Cassidy accepted the challenge because he saw participation in politics as another avenue for bringing about social reform. The suggestion to enter politics originally came from Mackenzie King, soon after the latter had retired from political life. Although he announced his candidature only a few weeks before a leader was to be chosen Cassidy surprised everyone by almost capturing the leadership from old and established political stalwarts. His intelligence, sincerity and erudition had made a very deep impression. Now he was urging the young men to stick together, to become a “ginger group” working for progressive liberalism in Ontario.
“His main concern,” says Barney Danson, one of the group, “was to encourage us. He didn’t even discuss himself.” Later, noting that the Ontario elections were not to be held for another month, he said to a friend, “I wish there was some way of contacting this world. I’m very anxious to know the results.”
On Sunday, Oct. 14, he received a visit from a friend, Dr. George Davidson, Deputy-Minister of the Department of National Health and Welfare. They had been to college together; they had worked closely on government welfare matters. When Davidson stepped into the sickroom in the morning Cassidy was drowsy from the sedatives he had been receiving. He apologized. “Sorry I can’t make it now, George,” he said. “Try me again later.” That evening, in the dusk, with the lights turned off. the two old friends talked. Old times were recalled. “Harry was taking out bits of his past life and examining them like treasures,” says Davidson. They talked about the country’s future social security
Many of the men who spoke to Cassidy during his last days received the impression that his conviction about his life’s work was so strong that he was using his death to ensure its continuation in the future. Perhaps this was what Cassidy was referring to a few days later when he confided to a friend, “I seem to be accomplishing more by dying than by living.”
Three nights later, back in Ottawa, Davidson called at the home of his chief, the Hon. Paul Martin, Minister of National Health and Welfare. In spite of prolonged ringing of the doorhell no one answered. Davidson opened the door and walked into the house. There he found Martin sitting in the dark in his study, like one transfixedRoused by Davidson, Martin explained, “I’ve just had a most unbelievable experience. I’ve been talking to Harry Cassidy.”
Martin stated that, upon hearing
Cassidy was at death's door, he had decided to phone Bea to express his sympathies and see if he could help the family in any way. The call was transferred from the Cassidy home to the bedside telephone. Bea said. “My husband knows that it’s you who’s calling and he wants to talk with you.” The conversation that ensued lasted forty-five minutes. Cassidy’s voice was confident and serene. They talked about matters of mutual interest, about their points of agreement and disagreement on social policy. He encouraged Martin in the work he was trying to
do and said, “I was happy to have served on your team. I’m sorry that I’ll not be around for the next ten years—they're going to be exciting years." The only time Cassidy referred to his illness was when Martin told him that he had recently discussed a cancer control program with the Premier of Ontario. Leslie Frost “That’s wonderful.” Cassidy said. “Your program will make an impact on the disease I’m suffering with.” After a warm but unhistrionic farewell Martin hung up the phone and, motionless, sat thinking in his studv
for more than an hour, until he was interrupted by Davidson. Recently Martin said. “I’ll remember that voice just as long as I live. For me it will always be the most powerful voice I have ever heard. Harry Cassidy was a greater man than we ever realized.” On Oct. 18 R. E. G. (Dick) Davis, executive director of the Canadian Welfare Council, called on Cassidy. Besides being old friends the two men had a long professional association. Cassidy had served for several terms on the council’s board of directors. He had chaired committees on housing
! and research: he had presented the 1 council's brief to the DominionProvincial Conference on Reconstruction in 1945. As in the case of other [ visitors, Davis recalls that the fact Cassidy was dying was quickly brushed ¡ aside. The dying man directed the discussion during the next two hours. First they talked about the job the council had to do during the uncertain times that lay ahead. Then they talked about their friendship. Finally, they got around to considering the fear caused to people by not knowing what awaits them when LLfr ends.
Davis presented his views, which he felt would be comforting: Death was
natural: death was a part of the orderly cycle of existence. He cited the following experience he once had: “I was once swimming in one of the lakes in the Gatineau Hills. I was trying to go between an island and the mainland. .1 distance of a mile. My sister and a friend were supposed to paddle beside me in case I needed help. But the wind was against them and, 1 midway in my journey, I looked around and found that there was no one within helping distance. For a few seconds I panicked. Then I realized that the water was trying to buoy me up, not pull me down.”
Cassidy listened closely, then commented cryptically, “I go beyond that.” The final parting was a firm handshake. Just before he opened the door to go Davis turned back and said, “The only thing I can say is that as long as I live you will never be completely dead." Cassidy smiled at him as he closed the door.
Letters continued to flood the hospital room. Old friends recalled happier times. A New York scholar wrote, 1 "Do you remember the trip we all once took to Wilmington, North Carolina, j in your old model T? The top leaked like a sieve when it rained and Bea put up an umbrella to shield both of you from the rain. At that point, for some unaccountable reason, you were seized : by an attack of dignity and kept complaining. “Please Bea don’t be a damn fool!”
Allon Peebles, a lifelong close friend, cheered the dying man’s last days with daily letters full of early reminiscences:
Oct. 16: Do ycu remember that gay I house party at Bolinas Bay in 1924? You and I gave an impromptu performance of the quarrel scene from Julius Caesar . . you Brutus and I, Cassius. My dagger was a knife sharpener . . There's nothing but
pleasant things to remember . .
Oct. 17: Do you remember when you were naming Xorah? You said, "If the child should turn out to be a washerwoman what name could be better than plain Irish Xorah Cassidy. But if on the other hand she should develop into a writer. Xorah Pearce Cassidy would be quite appropriate."
I Then there was the stag party the night before my wedding in X’evv York at an Italian restaurant where we could get wine The party was getting along quite merrily at 1 a.m. when there was a loud banging on the door. Xew York's finest had arrived. The proprietor was terrified and I had visions of spending the next day net in church but in jail. But you talked the cops out of it.
Oct. 24: They were good days, the ones I spent a: your farm, in Murrayville B.C . Your mother used to call you to bring the cows in for milking You would answer out from your sleep then roll over and forget the lowing herd waiting for you on the far side of the lea. Your mother had a wonderful disposition. Harry, and a good brain as well . .
Cassidy was deeply moved by a message from Dave Friesen, a student leader at the school: “The students would like to do as a group something
you feel should be done. 1 am wondering whether we can make a pledge: That in the field of social work we use our strength and skill to carry out some request of yours . . .’
From Ottawa a stenographer wrote: "1 shall never forget your patience with me when I displayed my ignorance and stupidity of the work you were doing. I have never regretted taking vour advice and transferring to the job here. I am constantly learning.
It was now Thursday. Oct. 25, and the sands in the hourglass of his life were running low. The doctors could feel with their hands the cancerous growth which was racing through his body. He was visibly losing weight. His voice was w’eak. The pain was excruciating. There were no veins left to be punctured for tube feeding. It now became advisable to remove the tubes. He would starve to death with the pain relieved by heavy doses of morphine. Cassidy accepted the verdict with the utmost serenity, “I don't mind . . my desk has been cleared.”
How Are The Workmen?
His sense of humor never left him. On the morning the tubes were removed lie slowly shaved then asked Rea to comb his hair and adjust the dresser mirror so that he could see what he looked like. She did so. then asked him if he could see. He replied wryly. “I see through a glass darkly . ”
From now on the number of visitors were restricted. “I can stand my own grief.” he whispered to Rea, “but not the grief of others.”
He asked to see Prof. Hendry again. When Hendry arrived at his bedside the dying man recognized him but could only whisper inaudiblv. Hendry squeezed his hand. “It’s okay — 1 know what you’re saying.” He brightened up later that day and called for his old friend, Lome Morgan, a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto. “The tubes are out.” he told him. "Everything is finished.”
Under the influence of the morphine he would drift in and out of comas. Once, semiconscious, he sat up in bed and pointed out the window to the steel structure of a rising new skyscraper not far from the hospital."Look at that building,” he said to Morgan. 'I want you to go there and see how the workmen are getting on. Investigate their pay and working conditions. Keep an eye on it.” All his life Cassidy
had been deeply concerned about labor conditions. Now. as it were, his subconscious was talking. The years had slipped away and he was back to the time when labor was not protected by contracts which guaranteed them a living wage.
A daily visitor was Dr. Charles Feilding. dean of divinity, Trinity College, University of 'Toronto. This distinguished scholar was also Cassidy’s next-door neighbor in Rosedale. Feilding found in his friend a wholehearted acceptance of death. “It wasn’t a surrender," says Feilding. “Just a mature recognition of the natural life cycle.” When Cassidy would awake and ask the cleric about the mysteries of death he would reply. “Let’s read some of the great ideas on the subject.” Once, they read parts of the 129th
O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou know est my downsitting and mine uprising thou understandest my thought afar off . . If I say. Surely the darkness shall cover me: even the night shall be light about me. Vea. the darkness hideth not from thee: but the night shinetn as the cay. the darkness and the light are both alike to thee
In the periods when Cassidy slumbered under the merciful influence of sedatives Feilding would go to his bedside and give him a blessing.
On the night of Oct. 25 a remarkable thing happened. At 8 15 the dying man bestirred himself trom his coma and brightened up He told his wife that he had one last thing to do and asked her to take some dictation In a faltering voice he dictated three messages. One was a business memo to Prof. Hendrs. his successor. He had remembered some details about the school budget which might complicate Hendry's job and he wanted to help him. His clarification covered an entire typewritten page of facts and figures. He wished that the matter was not so invohed. “I am very sorry about the budgeting." he said to Hendrs
The next message was of a personal nature to Hendrs “The sers best of things to you. Chick ... 1 hase no doubt that you svill be able to handle the school affairs and carrs on the sort of job 1 have tried to do better than anvone else I have become tre-
mendously fond of you since you came to Toronto."
Finally, there svas a message for his staff:
You are in my thoughts all the time. I cannot tell you how much affection I feel for the whole group . . . since I admire and respect you. since I feel you are all my personal friends. I feel . . we can get on rapidly ... to build the Kingdom of God on
I am going downhill rapidly and I will not see you again ... I know our ship will still sail on proudly with flags flying defiantly as they have never flown before . . . God bless you . . May ycur lives be peaceful, good and happy. FarewelL farewell, farewell.— Harry.
His life was notv in its final moments. Most of the time he dozed, relieved from the torment of pain by sedatives. Occasionally he would open his eyes, whisper his wife’s name, and weaklyput his arm around her waist. On Oct. 29 he looked up at his physician. Jacob Markowitz, as if to say with his ey-es, "Dying is not so bad.” His wife left him late on the night of Nov. 1 in a deep slumber. Early next morning a phone call informed her that her husband had passed away quietly.
His funeral services, which were held the following day in the Convocation Hall of the University of Toronto, were attended by a large group of professional colleagues, dignitaries and friends. The services were conducted by his Chicago friend. Dr. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, who stayed over in Toronto to speak to Cassidy's students on the theme. A Philosophy for Social Workers. This was Cassidy's idea. During the last few weeks his staff had asked if they could make a gift to him in the form of paying for a continuous shift of attending nurses. He refused saying, “The affection of mystaff means too much to me to have it translated into material terms.” Instead he suggested they arrange for McGiffert to stayover and address the students. McGiffert delivered a moving and inspiring talk, but it occurred to more than one member in the hushed audience that the deeper values he was discussing were never more eloquentlyexpressed than in the manner in which Cassidy lived and the way in which he died.
After the funeral Hendrymade his way to Cassidy-'s old office. While fumbling in the dark for the light snitch his foot touched something. When the light was turned on he found that it was a letter. But it was no ordinary letter. It came from Jimmie Hunter, a blind veteran, who was one of Cassidy-'s students.’ He had enclosed ten dollars. He explained that he wanted this money to be used as part of a fund to complete the "unfinished business” that Cassidy was to speak of so frequently in the dying moments of his life—research in the field of social welfare that would ultimately help the ill. the aged, the mentally sick and the delinquent.
Hunter's challenge has been taken up by a group of distinguished scholars and industrialists. The Harry M. Cassidy Memorial Research Fund. Universityof Toronto, has been formed, and a campaign is now under way to raise funds.
When a man is alive one is blinded by the flickering of his personality, and an appraisal of his stature is often hot possible. Now that Harry Cassidy has been still for several months his friends and acquaintances speak of him as a great man. Shortly before his death, one of them sent him a copy of the quatrain:
Hammer me. O life, hammer me,
If I be steel, I shall sing.
If a fire stone, sparks will fl v.
If glass, let me be broken.
1 ried by’ the greatest crisis a human being can face, Harry Cassidyrevealed the finest, purest steel. ★