With great sadness, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan on Wednesday mourned the passing of Cassandra Woods, his longtime state staff director and a tireless advocate for the people of Michigan, after her long battle with cancer.
“Cassandra Woods was one of the bravest people I’ve ever known or worked with, and we will all miss her terribly,” Levin said. “Her strength, integrity, courage and compassion inspired me and my staff, and made an incalculable difference in the lives of countless Michiganians.”
Woods, 64, served at every level of Levin’s Michigan staff. She began in his Detroit office in 1979 as an intern, joined the staff in 1980 as a caseworker helping Michigan constituents resolve issues with the federal government, and became deputy director of casework in 1984. In 1991, she was named to head the office’s Community Affairs/Community Development Department, where she was responsible for coordinating economic activities for the senator’s eight regional offices around the state.
In 1993, she became deputy state director, and for the last 12 years served as state director, responsible for supervising Levin’s regional representatives around the state and coordinating with elected officials and government agencies at the local, state and federal level.
In her many roles, she worked with Michiganians around the state, helping shape the goals and craft the policies Levin pursued to assist Michigan and its people.
But her service went beyond her Senate work. Diagnosed with breast cancer in February 1995, Woods became a tireless and effective advocate for cancer patients. She co-founded the Metro Detroit chapter of Sisters Network, a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of the impact of breast cancer among African-American women.
After defeating cancer for the first time in 1995, Woods told an interviewer that she felt a responsibility to help others in their fight. “Since I went through the fire and came out whole, there’s nothing I can’t do with God’s direction now. Bad don’t scare me no more,” she told the Michigan Chronicle.
Through multiple recurrences of the disease, she regularly spoke to civic groups and policymakers about the need for improve cancer care, especially in minority communities. She participated in experimental drug trials, not only to seek a cure for her own illness, but to help researchers help other patients. In 2010, the Karmanos Cancer Center honored her advocacy with its Geri Lester Courage Award, awarded annually to an individual whose battle with breast cancer has inspired family, friends and community.
A native Detroiter, Cassandra Woods graduated from Detroit parochial schools, the Lewis College of Business with a degree in business administration, and Wayne State University with a degree in sociology. She is survived by her mother, Nettie Holmes of Detroit; a daughter, Tracie Alexander of Detroit, and granddaughter Bianca; a son, Carl Woods of Detroit, and grandson Justin. Funeral arrangements are pending.