Nancy Cassis, left, poses for a picture with now-Mayor Justin Fischer and his wife, Melissa, following his election to City Council in 2009.

Nancy Cassis, left, poses for a picture with now-Mayor Justin Fischer and his wife, Melissa, following his election to City Council in 2009.

Photo provided by Justin Fisher

Former state Sen. Nancy Cassis left lasting impression on Novi community

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published June 28, 2024


NOVI — The Novi community lost one of its most passionate supporters and advocates with the death of former state Sen. Nancy Cassis at age 80 June 11.

“In my humble opinion, she was the most important politician in Novi’s history,” former Mayor Bob Gatt said. “I love so many different politicians in Novi, but the importance of Nancy can’t be (overstated).”

Gatt said that without Cassis, Ascension Providence Hospital — Novi Campus would not be in the city. He said that there were a lot of people opposed to the hospital being built because they thought it was not necessary, as there were several other hospitals in the general area, such as St. Mary’s in Livonia and Huron-Valley Sinai Hospital in Commerce Township. According to Gatt, the Legislature was not going to let a hospital in Novi happen until Cassis got involved and persuaded people.

Gatt said Cassis is also to be credited with the creation of the large interchanges at both Beck and Wixom roads, which were once small ramps.

“As Novi was burgeoning and growing, and Suburban Collection Showplace was growing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger, we needed those interchanges to handle the flow of traffic.” Gatt said.

According to Gatt, Novi was not “high on the list” of priorities, as it was not thought of as it is today, but somehow, Cassis made it happen. He said that while he is proud of his career and the things he was able to accomplish for the city, and that others have done many great things for the city, Cassis’ work for the city surpasses all others.

“When I think of Nancy Cassis, away from my friendship thoughts, I also think of somebody that really, really, really helped Novi out more than any other politician,” Gatt said.

“She was instrumental in working with the then-Gov. (John) Engler to get funding for the interchange for the hospital, the Grand River (Avenue) improvements as we were transitioning over to that location,” said Blair Bowman, the owner of the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. “She was certainly someone I admired and miss dearly, that’s for sure.”

According to Cassis’ obituary, she served on the Novi City Council from 1985 to 1993, and again from 1995 to 1996. A Republican, Cassis was then elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, where she served for six years, and then she won election to the Michigan Senate in November 2002 and was reelected in 2006.

Cassis had an influence on Novi’s current mayor too.

“Nancy is the reason that I am in politics,” Mayor Justin Fischer said.

Fischer said that he first met Cassis when she was a state representative and he was a student at Michigan State University. He said he reached out to her, as he was interested in politics, and she invited him for coffee. He said he would later intern for her, and he worked on her campaigns. He said she also helped him to secure an internship in Washington, D.C., with then-U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers.

“She was instrumental in helping me get into politics, and she has continued to support me every time I ran for council and mayor and everything,” Fischer said. “She was the kindest person that you could meet, very intelligent, and really knew her stuff about policy. She knew her stuff about politics and how to get things done in Lansing, but she also ran a tight office, a strict office, and expected a lot of her employees.”

Fischer said the most important thing he learned from Cassis was her campaign strategy and how hard you have to work and get out and meet the voters and listen and talk to them in order to get them to go out and vote for you on election day.

He said she also taught him the value of relationships. Fischer said she would always write him and tell him that she supported him. He said she just had a way of lifting people up.

“She knew the value of relationships in getting things done, and I use that every day now as mayor,” Fischer said.

Councilman Dave Staudt said he worked on her campaign when she was a write-in candidate.

“Nancy was always interested in being at the front of the line whenever there was a political cause, and she did a lot of great things for Novi,” Staudt said. “She always cared about what was happening at home while she was elected, and that was a good thing.”

Gatt said he met Cassis long before the start of their political careers. They met while he was operating the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program with the Novi Police Department, and she was a psychologist for the Novi Community School District.

“She gave me so many coaching tips and so much help on how to handle these sixth graders. I just valued her opinion and her help more than I can actually put into words,” Gatt said.

The friendship, he said, would grow and go on for years, transcending into politics as they both took on positions within government. Gatt said their friendship was so strong that Cassis became his mentor and go-to person. He said she would encourage him and gave him tips as he ran for City Council and then mayor.

“She was 1,000% in my corner and never wavered on her endorsement for me, and certainly never wavered on her ability and willingness to help,” Gatt said. “She was the No. 1 person I would go to for mentorship and for guidance.”

Novi Meadows Elementary School sixth grade Principal Lisa Fenchel worked with Cassis for several years at the start of her career when Cassis was a school psychologist for the district. Fenchel said that Cassis’ office was at Novi Meadows. Fenchel said Cassis was part of the special education team.

“She was a very, very nice lady,” Fenchel recalled. “She was very put together, always very calm. Just a very reliable, dependable kind of person.”

She said she was surprised when Cassis got into politics, but as they weren’t close, she said she didn’t know her well enough to know that was something she was interested in.

“She obviously had a passion for (politics) and it was kind of nice (when she became involved in state government) because I felt like I know somebody. I know somebody who’s made it big,” Fenchel said.

“Everybody here owes her more than we could ever repay. She was one in a million. She was just a wonderful, wonderful human being dedicated towards making Novi a better place, and boy she succeeded,” Gatt said.