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40 years later, a final thank you

Forty years later, a final thank you

Doug introduced Bill to barbershop. Four decades later, Bill got to thank him properly.

by Robert Cassie

Recently my sisters and I had to say goodbye to our dad, Doug Cassie, who was a proud Barbershopper his entire adult life. He paid his dues religiously and just got his 64-year membership card prior to becoming another victim of the menace we now call Covid. Upon his passing, while tidying up my dad’s affairs, I came to learn of one of these wonderful barbershop relationships.

I came across a Christmas card envelope addressed to my dad, from a name I didn’t recognize. I put it aside for a bit with a thought to track down the sender to advise of my dad’s passing. It sat on my desktop for longer than I wish to admit. The envelope, so it seemed, kept asking me to pick it up and read again the content and the contact names. I finally tracked down Bill and Jan Grace, who had fondly kept in touch with my dad during his final nursing home years. Visiting occasionally and sending holiday cards regularly, the Graces wished Dad encouragement and good song until COVID lockdowns limited in-person visitations. I had never heard of Jan and Bill, until I read the card.

Rewind 40 years earlier. At a casual neighborhood party, my Dad meets Bill and bends his ear sufficiently to suggest he try Barbershopping as a hobby and sing with the Manchester, Connecticut Chapter. So begins Bill’s entry to the fraternity of song.

Years later, Bill’s romantic second date, with his eventual wife, Jan, turns out to be where Bill also meets Jan’s dad, Jim Ferris – a very talented tenor in the renowned Top Hats comedy quartet. (See related story on the Top Hats.) By this time, coincidentally, my dad is singing bass with the Top Hats. The Top Hats quartet traveled on USO Tours to Japan, Guam, Philippines, and Guantanamo Bay bringing song to recuperating soldiers on bases across the islands. The Top Hats flew across the greater northeast bringing harmonious comic relief to countless chapters’ annual shows.

Top Hats quartet

Fast forward to 2021, as I was planning Doug’s Celebration of Life for this July, I thought it would a nice touch to have a barbershop quartet sing a few songs for those who gathered to pay their respects to Dad. A bit of Facebook searching led me to the awesome Off The Chart quartet, all members of the famed Silk City Chorus of Manchester, Connecticut.

Graciously, the contact for Off The Chart, Craig Minor, offered to sing a few songs – If they could only find a bass! Their bass was not available for the date - so the search was on for a back up bass! After a week or so, Craig calls me to say they found a guy who agreed to dust off the pipes and would be happy to step in and sing.

To my astonishment they tracked down Bill Grace, who my dad introduced to barbershop 40 years earlier and had married the daughter of the Top Hats fine tenor, the late Jim Ferris! We were so thankful to secure Off The Chart with Bill Grace for the day!

Off the Charts, with Bill Grace (second from left) filling in as bass

After an array of Polecat songs, peeks of smiles through the happy tears in the crowd, the spirit rose amongst those gathered that only 4-part harmony can bring to life. I think I even heard my dad, singing from above, as he belted out the tag like only a true wood-shedder can do!

God speed and rest in peace to our father, Doug Cassie. Keep the whole heavens singing.