Catherine Cassel Talmadge — a longtime Westporter, prominent volunteer in numerous organizations, and beloved wife, mother, sister and friend — died December 30. She was 71 years old.
Cathy’s long and public battle with sarcoidosis and kidney disease was followed by a rapid and private fight with esophageal cancer.
Born on December 9, 1951, Cathy spent her first few years in Oakland, California and Rochester, Minnesota before the family moved back to her parents’ hometown of Dayton, Ohio. She graduated from Fairview High School there.
In 1975 Cathy received a BA in dance performance, with a minor in philosophy, from Denison University. Cathy practiced modern dance and moved to Breckenridge, Colorado where she met her husband, Tom Talmadge, in 1977.
Their early years were carefree, on the slopes and spent with friends in local venues.
In 1979 Cathy returned to school to obtain an MBA at University of Denver, with hopes of opening a dance studio. Though that dream never came to fruition, she discovered a talent for business and communications at a time when it was not scommon for women to have MBAs.
She was soon swept into business operations, including a successful career at Time Warner Cable from 1982 to 2001. Cathy rose to become vice president of finance. She was a pioneer for women in the workforce, with many following in her footsteps.
This role brought Cathy, Tom and their infant daughter Carolyn to Westport in 1989. She lived there for the rest of her life.
After Time Warner Cable she continued as a consultant with telecommunications companies, including Lemur and Juniper Networks.
Cathy’s active participation in the Westport community for over 3 decades began as a mother with school organizations, and at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.
In recent decades Cathy worked energetically and happily to make Westport a better place to live. For over 14 years she was an elected member of the Representative Town Meeting, serving on its Finance, Public Works and Environment Committees.
She balanced this with leadership roles in local organizations that work to secure a more sustainable future. She was an early organizer for Wakeman Town Farm, and long-term treasurer as it developed into a viable enterprise.
While she served on the boards of WTF, Friends of Sherwood Island State Park and Earthplace, her daily boots-on-the-ground volunteering was equally appreciated.
In her spare time Cathy was an avid cook, gardener, swimmer, skier, reader, tennis player, hiker and world traveler; a lover of animals, all things beautiful, and all things nature.
In addition to their house pets, Cathy and Tom raised chickens, and cared for a pride of feral cats, working with local trap and neuter organization TAILS to keep them healthy and humanely contained.
Cathy is survived by Tom, her husband of 40 years; her daughter Carolyn of Boston; sisters Polly Cassel of Northampton, Massachusetts, Beth Cassel of San Rafael, California and Martha Cassel of Cambridge, Massachusetts; nieces Stella and Eve Cassel and nephew Rudy Cassel, and many beloved friends.
A public memorial service will be held on January 27 at Greenfield Hill Church in Fairfield (1 p.m., followed by a reception in the hall).
Last month, “06880” published this tribute to Cathy, from her friend Christy Colasurdo. Her longtime friend and fellow Wakeman Town Farm volunteer wrote:
When I met you more than 15 years ago, I was in awe. You were a wonderful cook, gardener, traveler, swimmer, environmentalist, and served on at least 2 town boards.
And that’s just skimming the surface.
You clearly relished your role as a conduit between the players in town and the organizations you served. You knew everyone who was anyone, and they obviously knew and respected you.
But the thing that impressed me the most was how you were always the first to quietly jump in to lend a hand, whether it was wrangling permits from the liquor control board, rolling up your sleeves to sew masks during COVID or dropping off used file folders to cut down on paper waste.
When I think of you, I picture you in your sunny kitchen with a soup bubbling on the stove and a golden retriever and Siamese cat at your feet, switching out your seasonal planters, or working away at your sewing table. You befriended and surrounded yourself with local environmental “greats” like Sal Gilbertie and Norm Bloom, and you were viewed as a civic leader on par with these giants for your commitment to Earthplace, Sherwood Island, the RTM, Wakeman Town Farm and other local organizations fighting for a more sustainable environment.
At the Farm you were one of the pioneers, putting yourself in the mix to ensure a successful initial renovation of the aging Wakeman residence to provide a cozy and warm welcome to the first caretaking family.
After this you took on the dual roles of town liaison and farm treasurer, helping create accounting systems, guiding budget decisions, managing the Farm’s first audit and so much more.
To many of us at the Farm you were a valued team player and, more than this: family.
I was deeply affected by your fight through serious illnesses, leading to your kidney transplant last year.
Thank you for your friendship, and for being such a wonderful person. Please know that you have always been an inspiration to me and many others. and that we are with you now.