Developer and brewery founder Alasdair Cassels, who died on Saturday, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago, but didn’t want anyone to know, his son says.
“Alasdair’s family are devastated by his death,” his partner of 47 years, Bridget Taylor, said.
“He gave us so much in his life, so much of himself.”
The 71-year-old was well known as the owner and developer of The Tannery boutique mall and as the founder of Cassels Brewing Company.
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A keen traveller and sailor, Cassels took his family on many adventures including boat trips in Fiordland and the Pacific, as well as an unforgettable voyage to the Mediterranean from New Zealand and back in 1996, Taylor said.
He had big ideas and the drive and business acumen to carry them out, she said.
“We were privileged to be included … he was my partner of 47 years and I will sorely miss him.”
He was a reserved man, she said, but loved family occasions and “a good party with his friends.”
Son Zak Cassels confirmed his father died from prostate cancer. His family learned about his diagnosis about five years ago, but it was not made public due to “commercial sensitivity.”
His health had declined since December and while the news would be a shock to many, his family and close friends “had longer than we thought with him”.
“He didn’t want others to know.”
The ambitious entrepreneur died surrounded by his partner, son and four daughters – Madeleine, Pippi, Zoe and Mia – about 3.30am on Saturday.
“It was a pretty gruelling night.”
The family would hold a private crematorium service on Tuesday, followed by a public celebration of Alasdair Cassels’ life at The Tannery at 5.30pm on Sunday.
Zak and son-in-law Joe Shanks were in the process of building a casket themselves, made from rimu wood used to build The Tannery.
Brother Ian Cassels said Alasdair was a “local hero” for his work at The Tannery and Cassels Brewery.
“It’s wonderful how his life turned out. He put his heart and soul into those two,” he said.
“He’s left behind a lovely and talented family. His children and grandchildren are unbelievably talented.”
He fought the cancer hard and was tough, but succumbed in the end, his brother said.
Speaking to Stuff earlier this year, Alasdair Cassels said he hoped his name – and that of his world-beating beer brand – would one day be as synonymous with the city of Christchurch as Guinness is with Dublin.
He had plans to double production capacity for Cassels Brewing, open a brewery tour, and for his brand to become associated with the Garden City.
The brewery had come a long way since the February 2011 earthquake, when the newly-opened premises ended up in ruins.
The business relocated to the central city for a few years, opening CBD Bar and Pizzeria on Madras St until the building was bought by the Crown to make way for the city’s new stadium in 2016.
Cassels invested significantly to rebuild his original space, The Tannery in Woolston, which he initially bought in 1994, and opened a boutique shopping mall.
Cassels was born in Northern Ireland and moved with his family to England when he was 4, then Wellington at the age of 8.
He moved to Christchurch in the late 1960s to study engineering and made the city his home.
“Wellington wasn’t home to me … I loved Christchurch from the off,” he told Stuff in an interview.
Cassels used his engineering knowledge to open Airless Spray Painting, a sign painting and sandblasting contract business he ran successfully for 25 years.
In 2008, he brought in son Zak and son-in-law Joe Shanks to turn his beer-making hobby into a full-time business venture, Cassels Brewing.
In 2018, Alasdair Cassels was pulled into controversy when the family of a missing sailor accused him and convicted fraudster Michael Swann of being involved in the man’s presumed death.
Both Cassels and Swann strongly denied the accusations – and no evidence supported the family’s claim.
William Kerry Blair, known as Kerry, and his boat Erie went missing from Cassels’ Erie Bay property in the Marlborough Sounds on March 8, 2014.
Cassels was also part of the Cathedral Working Group and was a strong advocate for the post-quake restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral.