BIST remembers: Paula Cassin

Paula Cassin
Paula Cassin

Like many in the ABI community, BIST was very saddened to learn of the recent passing of Paula Cassin, our former board member and tiresless brain injury survivor advocate.

We are honoured to share the heartfelt tribute to Paula  by Judy Moir, given at The Toronto ABI Network Conference last week.

When Charissa and Colleen asked me to do this my first thought was, I would be honored to stand up and give tribute to a woman that I respected and admired as a colleague and a woman who I came to think of as a friend. Paula was one of the most genuine, giving and selfless people I have ever met.

My second thought was – how will I possibly get through it? So please bear with me.  It has only been a few days since we lost Paula and although many of us knew it was coming, we are still reeling a little from the suddenness and the seeming injustice.

I trust that you will understand if I need to a moment or two now and then.

I don’t want to simply outline a list of accomplishments today – although there were many – rather I am hoping to give you a sense of the person Paula was.

And I am so grateful that I am not doing this alone. Many of you have shared thoughts and stories over the last few days and I cannot think of a better tribute than sharing with you the collective memories of the ABI community – the community that Paula was so passionate about and worked so tirelessly for.

So these words are not all my words – they are the words and memories of those who worked with her and knew her. She is remembered for her valuable contributions by the whole community –  her team (at abiPossibilities and then at Pace), the people who worked with her in the past and more recently, the ABI Network, OBIA and BIST.  And most importantly the clients she worked for (or members, as she called them).

Paula has been described as a truly genuine and generous person with a giving heart. There were no airs or pretensions she simply and genuinely cared. Everyone who met her was touched by her and it didn’t take long for her to get into your heart.

She showed genuine respect and empathy for clients as well as colleagues, had a remarkable ability to be inclusive and welcoming, and wanted to give whatever she could whenever she could.

She always put the members at the centre of every decision, every structure, every policy, and every action. Apparently she drove people a wee bit crazy with her ‘most excellent questions’, challenging what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we can do better.

She truly felt it was our privilege and responsibility to provide the kind of support that people wanted to create a life they wanted.

Even in these last few difficult months she was concerned about others – she had this incredible way of ensuring everyone else was doing okay. On more than one occasion she called to share some bad news following a doctor’s appointment or a test result and then would call back to see if I was ok.

And she worried about how the plans for her treatment would impact her family and friends more than she worried about what she might need or want.

She was thought of by many as a mentor and someone with a passion for lifelong learning – most often she sought out learning for the sheer love of it – sometimes it was more out of necessity (I am pretty sure she learned more about bed bugs and the LHIN’s budgeting and reporting requirements than she ever wanted to).

Many people remember Paula as a strong but gentle advocate and a dedicated and hard working professional. That was evident in everything she did – right up to the very end. She went into the office last Monday – the day before she was admitted to Palliative Care. And even from her palliative care bed she was making calls and planning for her clients and her team.

Paula was a rare one and I don’t think there will ever be another quite like her. She has changed the ABI community in Toronto for the better and we are less today because she is gone.

For those of you who have attended the Toronto ABI Network conference in the past you know there is always something to inspire you or remind you why we do the work that we do.

I hope today you will remember Paula and let her legacy of selfless, gentle advocacy remind you of what is important and inspire you to change your part of the world.