How do you put into words the life of a man that was larger than life, who had so much impact on our community? My dear friend, Cazzie Brown, was an icon not only at McGillis but throughout every community he was a part of. He was unmistakable; for his tall stature and for his presence and the connection he made with every single person he met. Cazzie brightened the McGillis community and the world around him.
I met Cazzie seven years ago when our McGillis building was under construction and we had to prepare lunch at a nearby school and drive it back to McGillis to serve. Cazzie was teaching at that school. Somehow during his busy day, he would help me load my van without even being asked. He greeted every person who walked in the building with a smile, a handshake, and a hearty “Good morning!” Immediately I knew this person was special and he needed to be a part of the McGillis community.
When he came to McGillis, Cazzie brought the same warm and welcoming spirit and started instantly making a connection with every student, parent, faculty member, or stranger he encountered. He was physically large, but his personality was even bigger. He stuck out in the crowd, and he was both aware and proud of the diversity he brought to our community. Cazzie felt that he had to be the best example of a strong black man, to show this small school that everyone deserves a chance. It was important to him to open people’s minds about diversity and inclusion. Cazzie lived this by finding students and adults who seemed to be struggling in any way, and making them feel welcome, important, and included.
Cazzie recognized the unique and special community we have here at McGillis and soon enrolled his own children at the School. He brought his two boys, and when his daughter was old enough she came to McGillis as well. Often you would see Cazzie with his kids in the halls giving them big bear hugs and kisses, lifting them off the ground, and telling them how much he loved them. This love was extended to every student - Cazzie could often be seen hand in hand with a little Kindergartener, leading them back to class.
Not only was Cazzie warm and sweet, but he also had an unfailing knack for being bold and honest. Sometimes that meant saying important things that others might find uncomfortable. He served on the McGillis Diversity and Inclusion Committee and wasn’t shy about letting the community know what it is like to be different. He also held high standards for every person he encountered. He instilled manners, respect for self and others, and a sense of duty to his students and the community. Cazzie was never afraid to call out disrespect when he saw it. He was not just a P.E. teacher, Cazzie taught students to be good people, to be kind, courteous, and considerate of others.
The joy that Cazzie brought to McGillis was contagious. Cazzie had a serious side, but most of the time he was a total goofball. He loved to tell jokes, sing, dance, give big hugs, and share happy stories about his own family. Students and faculty will never forget the dance parties he would host during P.E., blasting music from the MAC and teaching children to have fun and express themselves unabashedly. Cazzie’s favorite response when someone would ask, “How are you?” was, “Livin’ the Dream.” And he was.
Cazzie was continually there for anyone who was in need. When he saw anyone who looked busy or stressed, he was always the first to ask, “How can I help?” and jump right into any task that could make someone’s day easier.
Cazzie had an office space but when he wasn't teaching he could be found in the kitchen. He would come in, put on gloves, and serve lunch, cajoling students to try vegetables. He often showed up with treats for the kitchen crew and always found ways to keep the mood light and make us laugh. He was seen all over the School doing similar helpful things; on snowy mornings he was the first to grab a shovel, and he would stop whatever he was doing when a new family was touring the school to say hello and tell them how much he loved McGillis.
We saw Cazzie in many roles; he was an amazing teacher, a caring father, a loving husband, an inspiring coach, a supportive colleague, and a true friend. The loss of such an incredible man has hit the McGillis community hard, and his presence has been deeply missed. Cazzie taught each person he came into contact with to be kind in every interaction.
As we all move forward, we can each continue his incredible legacy. How will you be like Cazzie ? Will you help and be a voice for the underdogs of the world? Will you simply make more of an effort each morning to say hello and smile to everyone you see? Will you help someone, even if you get nothing in return? Will you share your time, money, and talent with those in need? Will you tell a joke to make someone smile? Will you call out disrespect when you see it even when it’s uncomfortable? Let’s all continue Cazzie’s incredible legacy.