Gerald (“Gerry”) Anthony Cashion passed away peacefully July 27, 2019 at his home in Venice, Florida, after a courageous battle with peripheral vascular disease and leukemia. His daughter, Dylan and son, Fitz were by his side throughout his illness until the end.
Gerry was born January 7, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Bernard and Cicely (Delany) Cashion. He graduated from Loyola University in 1965 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. In 1984 he received a PhD in African Folklore from Indiana University. In 1965 Gerry began his development career with Peace Corps Sierra Leone as a rural development volunteer and in 1967 he met and married fellow volunteer Barbara Warren. The couple returned to Chicago in 1968, where Gerry became a stock broker with Dean Witter & Co. In the mid-1970s, the pull of Africa led him and Barbara to enroll at Indiana University to pursue doctoral degrees in African studies and they were both awarded grants to do research in Mali.
Splitting time between the village of Kabaya and Bamako, Gerry quickly absorbed Malian culture and languages. His unique understanding of rural life garnered USAID/Mali’s attention and he so impressed Mission staff with a social soundness analysis that he was immediately hired as the Mission anthropologist. In 1985, his performance led to a direct hire offer as project development officer and social science analyst in the Africa Bureau.
Gerry subsequently served with USAID/Nigeria, the USAID Regional Development Office for the Caribbean in Barbados, as USAID/Washington desk officer for Madagascar and in the Africa Bureau’s Development Planning Office. In 1995, Gerry and family returned overseas to USAID/Morocco and in 1999 he was assigned to the Regional USAID Office (REDSO/ESA) in Kenya to direct the design and implementation of complex transition programs for southern Sudan, Somalia and Burundi.
In 2001, Gerry was named Deputy Regional Director for REDSO/ESA, leading to his promotion to the Senior Foreign Service in 2003. He then was assigned to Botswana as Director for USAID’s Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA) until his retirement in 2006. Gerry continued to serve under temporary appointments in 2007 and 2008, as Mission Director in USAID/East Timor and Madagascar, respectively.
Gerry was a colorful, larger-than-life personality. He had an uncanny gift for memorizing names, remembering them even months after a first meeting. “There’s nothing sweeter than hearing your name on the lips of another person,” he’d say. He was generous in spirit and loved entertaining friends and family, holding court, laughing, throwing out thought-provoking questions and telling stories.
He reveled in his Irish ancestry. He once said of a friend’s sister, who’d just lost her husband of 45 years: “She’s a lucky woman, she is!” When asked how he could possibly say that, given her recent loss, Gerry replied, with a twinkle in his eye: “Well, for 45 years she was married to a PhD anthropologist and an Irishman! You can’t get any luckier than that!” Gerry was also known to enjoy a wee dram of spirits, once performing a lively Irish jig on top of a table at the Irish Ball in Nairobi.
Gerry was a lifelong sailor, spending his happiest moments on the sea helming his O’Day 28, Irish Wake. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of sailing, knowing a well-trimmed mainsail from an over-trimmed one, sensing the subtle shifts of wind and currents and plotting a course accordingly. He invited friends to the Caribbean to compete in the Heineken Regatta and was an active officer and member of the Venice Sailing Squadron, racing with his son, Fitz.
Gerry was ever curious and interested in myriad things. He loved classical jazz, the blues, and 1950s rock and roll. He played harmonica, guitar and drums. For years he donned a heavy Santa suit (even in Africa) and delighted children as jolly St. Nick. He had a keen eye for West African art, amassing a fine collection. He accumulated several model square rigger ships, displaying them in glass cases around his home, along with nautically-themed oil paintings. Above all, Gerry collected friends: a gregarious Irishman to the end.
Gerry Cashion is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara Cashion, of Aberdeen, Washington; a daughter, Dylan Cashion, and a son, Fitzgerald Cashion of Venice, Florida, and a brother, John B. (Mary Ann) Cashion of Chicago, Illinois. A celebration of life will be held at a future date, to be announced. A memorial website has been set up to celebrate Gerry’s life at www.forevermissed.com/gerry-cashion. Contributions may be made to organizations dedicated to helping the people of Mali: African Sky (Africansky.org) ECOVA Mali (Ecovamali.org) and Muso (Musohealth.org). All who have memories of Gerry that you would like to share, can do so at: Gerry Cashion’s memorial website