TORONTO — Former Toronto Sun photographer Mike Cassese was remembered Monday as a loving dad, brother, nephew and a highly-skilled professional.
“You don’t know how professional Mike was ... there was no ego involved,” Sun photographer Veronica Henri said after her award-winning friend’s funeral mass.
“From the beginning of an assignment to the end, he’d have everything covered,” she said after the service at St. Clare Catholic Church in Toronto.
Cassese died last Thursday of a heart attack at age 53.
His death leaves “a definite big void,” Henri added. “When I was out working, I always looked for Mike, at sports events, the film festival.”
She was particularly saddened for his boys, Daniel, 17, and David, 13.
During a weekend visitation, Cassese’s uncle Rocco said relatives were especially shocked because his nephew was about the same age as his teenage son, Daniel, when his father, Joseph Cassese, died.
Born in Italy, Cassese joined the Sun in 1985 where he worked for 16 years before becoming a freelancer with the Reuters news service.
He won two National Newspaper Awards, the most famous being his first in 1992 for a World Series photo of Blue Jay’s third baseman Kelly Gruber tagging out Atlanta Braves outfielder Deion Sanders — an image that proved the umpire made a bad call.
Sun photographer Mike Peake said “he was one of those guys who, in a scrum, would make room for people. That’s a sign that you’re a person and a photographer, understanding the need of others without compromising yourself or others.”
Cassese’s helpfulness came “with a confidence of being as good as he was,” said Ron Poling, retired Canadian Press picture service chief.
Close friend Fred Thornhill, a former Sun photographer, said “his family adored him.”
In his eulogy, Thornhill told almost 300 mourners that Cassese “set a standard of excellence” whether covering prime ministers, bankers or variety store owners.
But he emphasized “Mike was a father first,” and a “consummate brother” to his sister, adding “he loved you very much, Mary. I know this because he told me.
“I believe his heart gave out Thursday, because he shared so much,” Thornhill said.