Kathryn Anne Roessel of Vineyard Haven Was Active, Independent Public Servant

Kathryn Anne Roessel, known simply as Cassie by the many who loved her, died unexpectedly at her Tisbury home on Nov. 27. She was born in Needham on Jan. 14, 1953.

Cassie walked and talked - both with formidable agility - by the age of nine months, and if you knew Cassie, you wouldn't doubt that. Later that same year, after her father earned his law degree from Harvard University, the family moved to Rochester, N.Y.

In Rochester, Cassie started attending nursery school at age two and graduated before she turned four. Elementary school years were spent at the Harley School, followed by a brief stint at a local public school and an eventual transfer to Columbia Girls' Day School.

At 16 she left Rochester to attend New York University, where she earned a degree in journalism in 1973. Armed with a degree and supporting herself, she worked for salsa-music producer Ralph Mercado, who encouraged her to follow in her father's footsteps and attend law school. Cassie earned her law degree from New York Law School and was a member of the Law Review. She started cutting her jurisprudent teeth for two years in the Manhattan office of district attorney Robert Morgenthau of the southern district of New York.

In 1984, after a six-month holiday reading Proust on a beach in Hawaii, Cassie began a period of travel and adventure that could fill a dozen lifetimes. For two years she spent the northern hemisphere's winter months in Australia, buying a beat-up Ford and driving it halfway across the continent, where she left it until the following year, when she returned and finished her trek. The summer months were spent with her beloved mentor, "Uncle George" Schiffer. George later purchased the house off State Road in Tisbury where he lived until his death in 2002; Cassie lived there at the time of her death.

From Australia, Cassie traveled to Asia, where she joined a Buddhist commune in Sri Lanka. At the lamasery, she shaved her blond locks and performed the duty of removing vermin from cruelty-free traps and carrying the creatures back into the woods, where she released them while praying for their safe journey home. It was in Sri Lanka that Cassie met a member of Doctors Without Borders, who accompanied her from the Chinese side to Mount Everest base camp.

In 1986 Cassie returned to the United States and worked with Howard Wattenberg, a prominent Manhattan music attorney where she lived in pre-gentrified Hell's Kitchen. Moving on, Cassie eventually worked independently with her own clientele, practicing intellectual property law.

With her interest in the law waning and her wanderlust ever-stirring, in the 1990s Cassie searched the Internet for work that would take her traveling by boat. The boat turned out to be the Vagabond, a 40-foot trawler making port in Islesboro, Me., where Cassie lived and worked aboard her for almost three years, making trips from Islesboro to Grenada in the West Indies and Lago de Izabal, Guatemala.

Always in touch with the Vineyard, Cassie stopped wandering long enough in 1999 to purchase a magical house on Winyah Circle. Soon the vagabond had planted Blue Peter rhododendrons and adopted a Cairn terrier named Tugboat. She rejoined the church of her youth (something recommended to her personally by the Dalai Lama). Her next off-Island trip was to northern Spain in 1999, where she walked the 489-mile El Camino de Santiago. In 2001, she resumed the pilgrimage in Lepuy, France.

In a very public way, Cassie nurtured a deep devotion to the town of Tisbury and to the people of the Island in the last years of her life. She served on the Tisbury planning board as well as the harbor management committee, and she was a key drafter of the regulations for the Vineyard Haven harborfront district of critical planning concern. In 2001 the county commissioners appointed her to a three-year term on the Steamship Authority board of governors, and her dedication, intelligence, decency and good will were apparent to anyone not hampered by political blinders. A lifelong conservationist, Cassie used her legal expertise as an advocate for the Vineyard Conservation Society. She was serving on the search committee for the new rector of Grace Episcopal Church at the time of her death.

Three years ago, Cassie became engaged to Island artist Travis Tuck, knowing full well that his chances of recovering from the cancer that ravaged him were less than slim. But she was there at Travis's side, buoying him with her love, her humor and that smile that she came into the world with, until his death in November 2002. Less than two months earlier she had lost her dear Tugboat, and in early December that year, Uncle George died at home.

In an EMT training course four years ago, Cassie met Nelson Smith of Edgartown, who became a loving and steadfast friend. Indeed, Nelson proved to be the rock that Cassie could finally call home. This June, he proposed marriage in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the statue of Greyfriar's Bobby, a heroic Cairn terrier of unwavering faithfulness, and Cassie accepted.

Cassie is survived by her parents, Mary White Roessel and Theodore Boettger Roessel Sr., of Casanova, Va.; her brother, Theodore Boettger Roessel Jr., of New York city; her sister and brother in law, Elizabeth Harding Roessel Manierre and Redmond Livingston Manierre, and their son, Redmond Livingston Jr., of The Plains, Va.; her fiancé, Nelson Smith of Edgartown; and her heartbroken Cairn terrier Sydney.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven.

In lieu of flowers, Cassie would have appreciated donations in her memory to Grace Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 1197, Vineyard Haven 02568, or to the Edgartown chapter of the MSPCA, P.O. Box 2097, Edgartown 02539.