[RIP] Deb Cassatt

I come from a family of overachievers. When I failed a spelling test in the first grade — ironically I scored 1/10, and the one word I spelled correctly was the word one — and was exhibiting less than strong study habits, my parents panicked. They hired a tutor, Ms. Deb Cassatt, who I soon referred to on a first-name basis, simply as Deb.

The entire concept of having a tutor terrified me. In my mind then, and even for a while after, I thought having a tutor meant that I was stupid, or inadequate.

I was so wrong.

Deb tutored me until the eighth grade, and taught me organization and study habits, and helped me build more confidence than I could have ever imagined. She taught me that education meant power, and I honestly don’t know that I’d be living my dream in New York right now, had it not been for Deb and her fundamental lessons. Even after we parted ways academically, I’d visit her throughout high school and college in between her tutoring sessions at the Huntington Woods Library.

The last time that I saw Deb was when I was home in March for my grandfather’s 80th birthday. Having heard that she was diagnosed with cancer, and that the prognosis was not good, I knew that I could not go back to New York without seeing her. I visited her at Beaumont, toward the end of her stay there, before she would find herself at a rehabilitation center.

When my grandmother lost her battle with colon cancer, I was heartbroken, but spent every weekend at home from the moment she was diagnosed, til the day she died. With Deb, I did not have that opportunity. She played a key role in my growth as an intellectual, and as a person overall. At the end, she was more like family than a tutor – one of the kindest, most loving, giving people I knew.

Yesterday, I sent a text message to her number, saying how much I missed her. No response. Today, on Facebook, I noticed her profile was gone. Nervous, I resorted to Google, where the first item in the search results was an obituary. I tried to convince myself that this could not possibly be my Deb Cassatt. And I so deeply regret that it was indeed, and the Deborah Sue Cassatt left this world on October 4, 2011 after her long, brave battle with cancer.

I feel heartbroken, as my mentor and friend passed away, weeks ago, and even more so because I’m only finding out now. For those who knew her, I’m sure you feel as lucky as I do. For her family, I send my deepest condolences. I can only hope to have as positive an impact on someone, as Deb had on everyone she encountered.

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