Community trailblazer passes away at 100

Feb 5, 2024

Mary Ellen Cassman, nee Mary Ellen Gill, passed away peacefully on Friday, January 19, 2024. She left exactly as she wanted–with family, in her Westchester home where she lived for more than 65 years.

She grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the second of two children born to H. Walter Gill and Mary (Leinbach) Gill. She adored her parents and older brother, Norman. In her youth, she developed lifelong passions for riding ocean waves and writing. An excellent student, she graduated from Wellesley College near Boston, majoring in philosophy. When the U.S. entered World War II during her sophomore year, Mary Ellen joined the Red Cross as a hospital volunteer. After college graduation in 1944, Mary Ellen took on various jobs, including a stint as an Executive Assistant at IBM in New York City. She also ventured out to Stanford University to work as a Dormitory Resident Assistant for a year and fell in love with California.

Mary Ellen and Alan Cassman were childhood friends. The story goes that Alan carried Mary Ellen’s books home from school in third grade. A high school photograph shows the two of them holding hands when he was President and she was Secretary of their senior class. But they did not become romantically involved until after Alan returned from the war. They married on October 15, 1948, and immediately drove across the country to California, landing in Los Angeles. Alan joined a downtown law firm. Mary Ellen took a job with the Girl Scouts of America. In April 1950, Mary Ellen gave birth to Ken, and she and Alan moved to Westchester to be nearer to the beach. In 1951, Alan opened his own law practice. Then came two more children–Joan in 1952 and Ted in 1955.

During the 1950s and 60s Mary Ellen was the primary home parent for her three children, but made time for employment and a legacy of community service. She was a photographer for the local newspaper, the President of the Cowan Avenue P.T.A., a Girl Scout leader, the manager of Pat Russell’s successful campaigns for the L.A. City Council, and a co-founder of the Westchester Family YMCA and the Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS). In the early 1970s, Mary Ellen obtained her teaching credential, and for a time, worked as a substitute English teacher at Orville Wright Junior High School. Then at a critical time in AMCS’ development, she agreed to become its first full-time Executive Director. Under Mary Ellen’s leadership over 19 years, AMCS grew to become the valuable community resource it remains to this day. Over the last 30 years, Mary Ellen continued to serve as a member, and at times, the President of both the YMCA and AMCS boards. Mary Ellen’s commitment to her community and society at large was surpassed only by her devotion to Alan and her family.

Mary Ellen’s and Alan’s deep and abiding love was a romance for the ages. They shared an exceptional partnership and supported each other in all of their civic activities. They wrote poems to each other on special occasions and sang in harmony. Together, and by example, they inspired those around them to live life fully, to enjoy the blessings of each day, and to give back.

Mary Ellen is survived by her three children–Ken, Joan and Ted–seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A memorial celebration service will be held at the Westchester Family YMCA on Sunday, February 25 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks those who are inclined, to please make a donation to the Westchester Family YMCA or the Airport Marina Counseling Service in Mary Ellen’s honor.

Links to these websites, and more information about Mary Ellen and the memorial service can be found at

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