“It’s bomb-proof!” he assured me.
He would have known; he once designed an explosives plant. I remember thinking, sure, just another one of his tall tales. The thing about Paul was that he was so full of experience that it was hard to believe he contained it all in what ended up being one all too short a life. I’ve scoffed with coworkers that if he had actually done what he said, he’d be 100 years old. As the years unfolded, it seemed like every story he ever told me was verified by a conversation with an old friend or a picture he had found and brought to the office or by his mother, over her evening beer.
William Paul Cassilly, architect, passed away on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 16: for certain, a tremendous loss felt by all who knew him. Drained by a battle with other medical issues, he was fodder for pneumonia, which cut him down with astounding efficiency.
“It seems impossible,” said one friend. It’s hard for those who saw him almost daily to understand, because he worked so hard not to have his illness affect those around him. That alone must have been exhausting. I first thought it was because he didn’t want to seem weak. And, although that was probably a part of it, I’ve come to understand that he didn’t want the people who cared about him to worry.
Paul almost always believed that the solution was lighter than what was required: a minimalist of the first order. Less is more. His structural mind would push a two-by-four piece of lumber past what anyone thought it could do, just to do it. As an architect, he would show you the elegance in the balance required to make that piece of wood work by detailing it perfectly. He lived that way, too, committed to living and treading lightly upon the earth and providing that example by the way he lived and worked. It factored into every single decision he made. Less is more.
He believed in people and was generous to a fault. He was a quick study of a person’s intellect and ability, two qualities he valued greatly. He used that skill to elevate those in which he found value and often took personal risk to his credibility and finances to give a second and even third chance to those he believed in. He did not tolerate fools, but he did try to better them. Failing that, he went through or around them and often just maneuvered them into doing what he thought was right by convincing them it was their idea.
Paul was fierce and fearless, the characteristics that stocked his lifetime of experience. He approached every task, no matter how unpleasant or menial, with great commitment and conviction and never with a negative attitude. His mother taught him the phrase “life is work.” Not that life is drudgery, but rather that the value in life lies in the effort to live it both full and well as opposed to the comfort of living it easy.
He saw and felt the critical little things others do not, with a keen mind for detail and an inquisitive passion to discover why sometimes the details don’t add up, followed by an intense need to fix or improve it in some way. Nothing went unsolved in his mind.
He loved with near abandon and burned brightly as a result. And the loss of that flame is the tragedy for the rest of us.
This isn’t an obituary or a eulogy. It’s a cautionary tale, one you’ve heard before about loss and regret. The loss of my dear friend Paul ranks with the loss of family and my best black dogs. And every time it has happened I’ve thought to myself, “I always thought there would be more time.” But there isn’t; there never is.
When I returned to the office following my own mother’s passing 10 years ago, I wrote a similar sentimental note to the office, and I offered at the end that if your mother is still alive, “tell her you love her… because there won’t be enough time.” Paul met me in my office the next morning in tears; it had struck him hard. His mother, Mary, was aging, and in the closing years of his own life, through his own struggles, he was constantly on the road back home to Owensboro, KY to see her. Theirs was a beautiful and admirable relationship. No doubt her passing not quite six months ago left him without perhaps his most kindred spirit. Heartbreak can’t be discounted.
I always thought there would be more time, but I’ll just have to miss Paul now. And, for all of the above reasons, it’s left me in a place where I know I need to be more, need to be better. I need to be more adventurous, compassionate, loving, observant, thoughtful and kind. Paul always thought there would be more time, too; he had recently finished preparing his property for a retirement filled with his passions—reading, design and building. But that must lie unfulfilled. Life, after all, is fragile and fleeting and far from bombproof.
Scott Messer is the Historic Preservation Planner with the Office of University Architects, UGA. Paul Cassilly was the Director of Design and Construction with the Office of University Architects, UGA. He also loved designing private homes in natural settings. Paul had a reverence for nature and passionately pursued cycling, reading, woodworking and philosophy. Annelies M. Mondi took the photograph of Paul.
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