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Remember Masa Gerry

August 22, 2019
Gerry Cashion

I first met Gerry and Barb in Bamako, Mali in 1976 when I began my job as Associate Director of Peace Corps. Connie and I were invited over to their apartment soon after we arrived. When I learned Gerry was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone our conversation switched into Krio or Pidgin English, a language I also learned as a PCV in Cameroon. Another bond that we had was a love of cultural anthropology, he knew several of my anthropology professors. At the time Gerry and Barb were free-lance consultants working for USAID and for the national museum of Mali while doing research on their PhDs in anthropology at the University of Indiana. Gerry provide sage advice about the Mali culture while I was Peace Corps staff in Bamako and later when I returned as a contractor for Mali Livestock II.

One day I was going to take a trip to Djenne, Mali to visit some PCVs. Gerry asked for a ride there to visit an historic site being explored by the Mc Intoshes who were conducting their excavations looking for the ancient statues and evidence of various periods of occupation. I swung by the museum to pick them up for the trip in my PC issued Peugeot 404 Bache, a small pickup truck. Gerry asked if I had room for Dr. Konare who was the head of the division of Patrimonie at the museum. I said sure but that we could only fit two more in front and that he would have to ride in the back but could rotate with Gerry.No problem. It was hot and dusty on the pot hole ridden mainly laterite roads we travelled on. It was about a tough six-hour drive so we stopped for fuel, food etc. but Dr. Konare did not want to rotate in the front. That was very unusual for an African director. I dropped them off at the site and went on my way.

I forgot about the incident until years later when Gerry told me that his old boss, Alpha Oumar Konare was elected as president of Mali and after his terms were up [1992-2002], he was appointed as the head of the African Union in Addis Ababa.  

Gerry and I were part of the Bamako softball team that played against the team from Dakar, Senegal. For the West Africa hands this would have been considered WAIST 1, or West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament. In those days it was fast pitch softball and Gerry pitched the first of three games against the Dakar team. It should be noted that Dakar had a very good team and their star pitcher Rick was an exceptional athlete who could deliver a very, very fast softball consistently over the plate. The Dakar team was used to hitting fast pitch; we were not. Gerry had a very competitive streak and pitched his best but he got creamed; his pitches were like batting practice for Dakar. I remember his electric slightly devious smile becoming a grimace after every home run. Bamako was blown out. Gerry was devastated; he did not like to lose. After the game when we hosted the victorious Dakar team Gerry showed he was a good sport and got back into his usual fun-loving demeanor, enjoying the beer, Poulet Bicyclette and camaraderie with all.

We stayed in touch over the years and met each other often in the USA and other countries in Africa. At one point he was my landlord in Kenya when I lived in his house outside of Nairobi complete with local staff and two dogs. It was a beautiful, classic colonial stone house with an English garden and a fantastic view. Naturally the house was filled with African art that Gerry and Barb had purchased during their travels in East Africa; most of the art was from West Africa, and was shipped back to their shop in Washington for sale.

Gerry was a fun loving, happy and generous man who will be missed by us all. Waka fayne Masa Gerry!

Sailing onto New Horizons

August 20, 2019
I was in Sierra Leone when I heard that Gerry had sailed on to new waters.  It seem very appropriate to be in the country where he had begun his adventure in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1965 and where he  married to Barb in the Catholic Church in the town of Makeni,

I saw him in March and thencalled him in early July and we chatted at length about how his time in Sierra Leone - how it had changed but still remained the same more than 50 years later .  Our Peace Corps experience were formative years and Gerry told me stories about the agriculture projects that he supported   not very different than what is still being done now.

Gerry was always driven by his passion to make a difference and his love for Africa.   He lived every minute to the maximum and enjoyed life to the fullest.  As all good African fathers, he really  loved having his children close by.

In line with his love for adventure was his love for sailing. I would like to share some comforting words that my family - also sailors -  always uses to comfort the spirit in times of loss 

“ I am standing on the seashore.  A ship spreads
her white sails  to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.   I stand watching her until she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, she is gone.  Gone where?  The loss of sight is in me , not in her. Just at the moment when some says, she is gone, there are others watching her coming.  Other voices  take up the glad shout.   Her she comes. “

And so Gerry’s  joy of life continues to be felt in each of us.   He was a special person and will be remembered fondly by many people - from all different walks of life.  

Lisa Gaylord
Peace Corps Senegal 1977-79
USAID Madagascar  1990 - 2008 

"You are giving civil servants a bad name"

August 13, 2019
There are many wonderful stories we could all share about Gerry.  One of my favorites was in the late 1980s/early 1990s in Mali.  I was there doing research from the Smithsonian and I had rented a room for a month in Bamako with a family in one of the older quarters.  It was pretty minimal living -Mattress on the floor, single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, water from a barrel in the compound. One day,  I ran into Gerry in town -he was there to do an evaluation for AID, if memory serves me correctly.  We went out to dinner, had a great time, lots of laughs (always with Gerry) and then he gave me a ride to the house.  He entered the compound and greeted all the assembled family members, chatted for awhile with everyone in Bamana and then he said, "hey Mary Jo, let me see your digs".  Well, when I opened the door and he looked in , he turned to me and said,  "You can't stay here -you are giving civil servants a bad name!"  So very Gerry! 

"I've Got A Contact"

August 1, 2019
Through my cousin Tommy Sullivan, I had a friend named Mehow Nawrot whom was originally from Poland. We met and became fast friends in the handful of years in our 20s when everyone was working and having fun in Chicago. Fast forward about 5-7 years and Mehow was traveling, I believe to Peru (cannot recall). Long story, very short - he met a girl, extended his travels and eventually lost track of the fact that his visa had expired while he was there. He was stuck in Peru and not able to return to his job in the States. By the time the information made it to me, he had been stuck for many weeks and had tried to navigate the US Embassy, Polish Embassy, etc. to get some help, to no avail. 

I said something to the effect of, "I've got a contact that might be able to help - my uncle was in the Foreign Service. He's retired now but might be able to help. You never know." I called my dad to get Gerry's phone number, then called Gerry and explained the situation. He said, "Dear Colleen. Give me 5 minutes and I'll call you back."

Within minutes (literally about 5-10), my phone rings and he says, "Colleen, he's sprung and on the next flight to Chicago."

"Africa Cashion" Visits

August 1, 2019
I remember as children that it was a very special treat when Uncle Gerry, Aunt Barb, Dylan and Fitz would come to visit us in Winnetka, IL. We had lots of cousins and visits with the Sullivan side of the family - since my mom is from Milwaukee and so much of the family is still in the Midwest. The Cashion side was more mysterious, more exotic....

It was a much more rare and, no offense to the Sullivan clan, more exciting when the "Africa Cashion" family would come to visit. Their stories and lives were so different - and gave us an opportunity to see and hear about the world in new ways. Uncle Gerry always had a funny joke, a great tale, a booming voice, and even maybe some swears thrown in for comedic effect - after which you'd get a big cheshire-cat smile and a booming laugh!

His stories of his work and adventures were very interesting - and always real - he wouldn't sugar coat the state of the world as he saw it. He never hesitated with stories of his respect for the people in the countries in which he was living and providing foreign service. 

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