WESTFIELD, NJ — If you aren't familiar with Gail Cassidy's wide-ranging impact on Westfield as a leader, teacher, writer, volunteer and motivational speaker, as you read the litany of her altruistic achievements and community involvements, you'll assume she must be at least 100. She's not even close, although she could be a retiree but that's not on her agenda now, if ever.
When Cassidy and husband, Tom, came to Westfield in 1972 they were employed by IBM, which is where they met. She was involved in computer technology while he as in sales and still is, selling computer supplies as owner of Cassidy Associates.
At IBM, Gail Cassidy designed a "self-paced training program," which earned her their Outstanding Contribution Award and a sizable check enabling the couple to purchase their Westfield home.
“That was almost 50 years ago,” she said, brushing off the honor with the same humility she projects in her current self-generated motivational programs.
“For a while my program was accepted worldwide but it soon became obsolete,” she admitted with a laugh, adding how awkward she felt at the awards dinner, “I was great with child. Our daughter Lynne was born a couple days later.”
(Today Lynne, 47, is an art teacher in New Castle, Colorado. Her brother Tommy, 46, works for a landscape architect in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he and his wife are raising Patrick, 9, and Jason, 4.)
Teacher, Leader, Author, Speaker
After four years with IBM, Cassidy taught English at North Plainfield High for four years while also becoming active in community affairs. From 1980 through 2006 she was elected president of seven local organizations: Westfield Parent-Teacher Council; Westfield Recycling Division-Project Share; Westfield Board of Education; American Heart Association; Westfield Rotary Club (only the second female in that post); Rotary Foundation; and the Westfield Foundation.
She also served as executive director of the American Red Cross chapter, as well as founding board member and secretary of Imagine, a Center for Coping with Loss.
Hold on. There's more.
Superimposed on those involvements, Cassidy has written 20 motivational books, starting with “Discover Your Passion,” a structured workbook where readers become writers recounting life events, with the ultimate aim to learn more about what motivates them.
“I want teens to find their passions by learning to believe in themselves, even if it seems that no one else does,” she said. This theme also applies to adults, the reason she taught "Discover Your Passion" for 19 semesters at Westfield Adult School.
Cassidy's speaking skills were utilized in the late 80s and early 90s when she worked for Dale Carnegie's organization, managing their instructors and writing their newsletter while teaching five Carnegie courses, including Effective Speaking and Human Relations.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Cassidy graduated from East Stroudsburg University where she earned a B.S. in Education, followed by a masters from Northeastern University, Boston, earning honors from both.
Inherently modest, Cassidy was reticent to discuss her accomplishments as President of the Westfield Board of Education in the mid to late 80s.
“I'll always be grateful that Gail urged the board to hire me as Assistant Superintendent,” Bill Foley, former superintendent of schools, declared emphatically. “She came at a very difficult time in the school district. There were labor union problems, things were very bad and Gail became a moderating influence and a significant force to stabilize the district during a very turbulent time.”
When Foley became superintendent, he received Cassidy's ringing endorsement.
“We became good friends and still are,” she said.
Bill and Barb Foley moved from Westfield to Florida a couple years ago but retained a summer home in the Adirondacks. When traveling back and forth they often stop in Westfield to visit Cassidy and other friends.
“Bill really did a great job as superintendent,” Cassidy reflected. “He always listened to everyone and was steady and effective at the helm.”
Motivating Kids and Seniors
Today Cassidy is focused on motivating teens to maximize their potentials. Using videos and PDFs designed for teachers, she’s about to launch a major project divided into three sections: “Discover Your Passion,” “Kids Mentoring Kids” and “You Cannot NOT Communicate.”
“My passion is to get kids to recognize they have something special about themselves and to learn how to share those special qualities while incorporating ethics and moral values. That's my aim,” Cassidy said.
“I love teaching and seeing kids become excited about learning,” she continued. “But I'm also concerned about the nationwide increase in dropouts, either physically or mentally, before graduation.”
Another concern she has is what kind of role models kids get today from the news.
“It becomes a challenge to counterbalance negativity, especially when you're trying to teach your kids to be their best,” she said, “which includes showing kindness, humility and civility to others.”
Her programs not only focus on teens but retirees, as well. Even though she's not ready to retire, Cassidy acknowledges, “Retirement can be the best time in our lives.”
That concept drew her to establish www.Retired-NextPhase.com, a free eZine, written with Ed Topar of Mountainside, a former IBM co-worker. Along with a variety of helpful information, each month a special senior is profiled.
When Cassidy earned a certificate in Anti-Bullying from Montclair University last year, she and Topar established and led local anti-bulling programs. She also created and led senior Legacy Workshops at Schaefer House in Union, and Sunrise in Westfield for the past six years. Her visits have generated positive reactions and ongoing friendships.
“They make me happy too,” she emphasized. “It's reciprocal.”
Cassidy’s consistent focus on kindness and humility prompts a segue to country singer Tim McGraw. That may seem like a stretch since McGraw and Cassidy don't know each other. However, they think alike on how to treat others. Take his hit, “Humble and Kind,” named Country Music's 2016 Song of the Year. His lyrics stress such niceties as, “Hold the door; say please and thank you. I know you got mountains to climb but always stay humble and kind;" mantras that Cassidy focuses on in her books, lectures, videos and seminars. She may not be into country music but she and McGraw are definitely in harmony on this score.