Gerald (“Gerry”) Anthony Cashion was born January 7, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois, the second of four sons of John Bernard and Cicely (Delany) Cashion. He attended Loyola Academy, a Jesuit college preparatory school, then went on to Loyola University, graduating in 1965 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. In 1984 he received a PhD in African Folklore from Indiana University following nine years of field research on Bambara and Malinke hunters.

Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s call to service, Gerry began his development career in 1965 with Peace Corps Sierra Leone, assigned to Makeni as a rural development volunteer. In 1967 he met and married fellow volunteer Barbara Warren and they extended for a third year of service.

The couple returned to Chicago in 1968, where Gerry became a stock broker with Dean Witter & Co. However, the pull of West Africa proved stronger than that of the trading floor, and, in the mid-1970s he and Barbara enrolled at Indiana University to pursue doctoral degrees in African studies. After required graduate courses at IU they were awarded research grants to study and work in Mali and were soon on their way.

Splitting time between a mud hut in the village of Kabaya and a tiny apartment in Bamako, Gerry—ever interested in how and why people did what they did—quickly absorbed Malian culture and languages. His unique knowledge and understanding of rural life came to USAID/Mali’s attention. He so impressed Mission staff with a social soundness analysis that he was immediately hired on contract as the Mission anthropologist. Gerry loved traveling to the bush and connecting with people, bringing back to USAID insights into development issues others had not seen, significantly improving project designs. In 1985, his expertise and achievements led to the offer of a USAID/Washington direct hire position as a project development officer and social science analyst in the Bureau for Africa. Thus, began his long career with the Agency.

Gerry subsequently served as a project development officer with USAID/Nigeria, then with the USAID Regional Development Office for the Caribbean in Bridgetown, Barbados. He returned to Washington to serve as desk officer for Madagascar and the Seychelles in the Office of East African Affairs, then worked as supervisory project development officer in the Bureau for Africa’s Development Planning Office.

In 1995, Gerry and family returned overseas to Rabat, Morocco, where he headed USAID/Morocco’s Project Development Office. In 1999, he was assigned to the Regional USAID Office (REDSO/ESA) in Nairobi, Kenya, where he headed the Non-Presence Country Program. There, he led the design and implementation of complex transition programs for southern Sudan, Somalia and Burundi, all emerging from devastating civil wars.

In 2001, Gerry was tapped to be Deputy Regional Director for REDSO/ESA, leading to his promotion to the rank of Counselor in the Senior Foreign Service in 2003. He was then assigned to Gaborone, Botswana as Mission Director for USAID’s Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA).He headed the office until 2006, reaching mandatory retirement age. Despite a diagnosis of chronic leukemia in that year, Gerry continued to serve the Agency under temporary appointments in 2007 and 2008, as Mission Director in USAID/East Timor and USAID/Madagascar, respectively.

Gerry was a colorful, joyful, larger-than-life personality. He had an uncanny gift for memorizing everyone’s names, remembering them even months after a first meeting. “There’s nothing sweeter than hearing your own name on the lips of another person,” he’d say. He was generous in spirit and loved entertaining friends and family, holding court at the head of a perfectly-set table, laughing, throwing out thought-provoking questions and telling stories, while assembled diners downed copious meals.

He reveled in his Irish ancestry. He once said of a friend’s sister, who’d just lost her husband of 45 years (a Dr. Logan, professor at the University of Tennessee): “She’s a lucky woman, she is!” When asked how he could possibly say that, given her grief over her husband’s recent demise, 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 some of his happiest moments on the sea at the helm of his O’Day 28, Irish Wake. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the art and science 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. For several years he invited friends to the Caribbean to compete in the Heineken Regatta. More recently, he was an active officer and member of the Venice Sailing Squadron, entering weekly races and regional regattas with his son, Fitz.

Gerry was multi-faceted: ever curious about and interested in many things. He loved classical jazz, the blues, and 1950s rock and roll. He played harmonica, guitar and drums, occasionally jamming with other musicians. For years he would don a heavy Santa suit (even in Africa) and delight children and their parents with his jolly St. Nick routine. He had a keen eye for fine West African art, amassing a large collection of rare pieces. He accumulated a number of 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 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. He was 78 years old.

As the Irish blessing goes, “May God hold you in the palm of his hand, Gerry.”

Gerry Cashion was preceded in death by his brothers Joe and James. He 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; a brother, John B. (Mary Ann) Cashion of Chicago, Illinois; loving in-laws, cousins, numerous nieces and nephews, and a host of life-long friends.

A celebration of life will be held at a future date, to be announced.

Contributions to his memory may be made to the following grassroots organizations that help the people of Mali: African Sky (Africansky.org) ECOVA Mali (Ecovamali.org) and Muso (Musohealth.org).