Mon 20 Feb 2012
Well over 100 people showed up Sunday in the Dance Palace for a memorial to honor Cecil Robert Asman, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 87.
Cecil was a particularly popular Realtor; that’s Realtor with a capital R. Only real estate agents who belong to the Board of Realtors can call themselves Realtors. It’s sort of like lions. If you send someone a message that there are a bunch of lions in your yard, those are big cats. If you say there are a bunch of Lions (with a capital L), they’re members of the Lions Club.
In late December 1978, Cecil became a director of the Marin County Board of Realtors. On that occasion, I asked Cecil about the then-much-discussed “struggle” between environmentalists and the real estate industry. “I consider myself a good environmentalist — but not in the political sense,” he responded. He said the real struggle was between environmental groups and subdivision developers.
Real estate, he said, “is really a service — bringing buyers and sellers together. Most environmentalists live in a house that was created by someone.” He noted with pride that he had sold homes to a number of West Marin’s prominent environmentalists.
My interview with Cecil in 1978, which was for a profile in The Point Reyes Light, took place at the real estate office he then had next to the Green Bridge.
Cecil, who moved to West Marin in 1962, had by the time of our interview done an amazing amount of civic work here. He had been a director of the Marin Coast Chamber of Commerce and the Inverness Yacht Club. He also helped the Inverness Foundation acquire the old Brock Schreiber boathouse, donating his commission toward the purchase.
He was an original member of the Inverness Music Festival and for years was a director. In 1976, he helped organize Point Reyes Station’s bicentennial celebration.
He had been on the bishop’s committee of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church and once headed the committee as warden of the church.
Because of all his work in the Episcopalian Church, it had never occurred to me that his ancestry was in part Jewish. So I was fascinated to read in The West Marin Citizen an account of his family life written by his daughter Carrie Asman.
Cecil’s father Ike was born in Vilna, Russia (now the capital of Lithuania), Carrie wrote. While Ike was still a boy, his family emigrated to the United States in the face of pogroms (deadly anti-Semitic riots) that were sweeping Russia and Eastern Europe. In the US, the family first lived in Georgia and then moved to New Orleans. After finding more anti-Semitism in the South, Ike Asman changed his name to Joe Green to disguise his ethnicity, Carrie noted.
The family ultimately moved to the East Bay, where I also grew up. Cecil attended local schools and enlisted in the Navy when World War II broke out, Carrie added.
After the war, Cecil held a variety of jobs before getting into real estate. He had been a business consultant, and I asked him about the other work he’d done.
Cecil said he had sold everything from hearing aids to automobiles, adding with a laugh: “The most interesting thing I ever dealt with was selling and packaging B.S. — cow manure.”
He told me that in the 1950s he purchased a weekend home in Inverness and moved here permanently in 1962. In 1964, he became a salesman for Studdard Real Estate and got his broker’s license in 1967.
Cecil said that when he bought his first house in Inverness, the price was $2,250. At the time of our interview 20 years later, it was worth more than 10 times that, he added, amazed at the effects of inflation.
In a comment prescient of the nationwide housing bubble that just burst, Cecil noted that a generally depressed housing industry had in 1975 set off a ”meteoric” climb in real estate prices in West Marin.
At the time of our interview in 1978, however, the rapid inflation in house and land prices had started to slow, “and I’m glad it has,” Cecil said. “It would have been catastrophic if the inflation had continued much longer.”
As for me, I was a beneficiary of Cecil’s close reading of the real estate market. With his guidance, I was able to buy more than two acres in the hills above Point Reyes Station at a very low price, and I continue to bless him for having made it possible for me to own a home here for the past 35 years.