Cecil Asman, an Inverness realtor who came to West Marin as a young father in search of a home and managed, in the nearly 50 years he lived here, to create just that—for himself and for much of his community—died on Christmas Eve from congestive heart failure. He was 87.
Bespectacled, bearded and rarely without his signature suspenders, Cecil was a genial and highly respected man who loved to donate both his time and money to local causes.
In 1964, with little money and no professional experience, he took over West Marin Real Estate, transforming it into a beacon of knowledge of land divisions, surveying and coastal permitting.
He sold a number of locals their first home, and assisted many others at the beginning of their real estate careers, including three women—Abigail Ferrar Glynn, Susan Deixler and Elizabeth Zarlengo—who became known as “Cecil’s Angels.”
On her first day of training, Glynn recalled, Cecil took one look at her prim attire and told her to get out: “He says, ‘Abigail, go home and put on some blue jeans.’ So I did, and when I got back he gave me a machete and told me to go up into the hills and survey some land. He taught me everything I know.
“Cecil Asman was an incredible human being,” she said. “And I don’t say that lightly.”
Robert Cardwell, the current head of West Marin Real Estate, said he heard a local agent best describe Cecil’s death as simply, “We’ve lost a bit of history here.”
Cecil Robert Asman was born on July 5, 1924, in Chester, Virginia to Lucille Harrelson, a beautician, and Isaac “Ike” Asman, a Russian immigrant who worked in textiles. The family fell on hard times during the Great Depression and relocated often—to Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana—wherever Ike was able to find work.
In 1934, Lucille, Cecil and his younger brother John moved to Oakland, where Ike had been working for months as a tailor. Their entire belongings fit into a small cluster of cardboard suitcases. “It was always a big joke: ‘Don’t get them wet,’” John said.
Cecil participated in Boy Scouts, and played musical instruments and high school football. John said he was never an imposing older brother, though they were never particularly close. “He was just a regular, get-along-with-almost-everyone, friendly kind of guy,” he said.
After graduating from Oakland High School in 1942, Cecil went to work as an aircraft mechanic for Pan American World Airlines. The position did not last long: with the country’s war efforts ascending, Cecil was conscripted into the Navy and sent to the South Pacific. He returned two years later and entered sales.
Around the same time he fell in love with a woman named Anne, whom he eventually married and with whom he had two children, Mark and Carrie. In 1964, Cecil moved his family to Point Reyes Station and began selling real estate, explaining later, “I wanted to work and live in my backyard.”
Cecil took to real estate quickly, relying on his previous sales acumen and strong communication skills. He also became well versed in the market’s regional idiosyncrasies. Responding once to a question about real estate agencies that had opened and then foundered in West Marin, he said, “many just try to make a fast buck. But this is not that kind of territory for very long.”
“Real estate here is not like it is in town,” Carrie said. “It’s a kind of knowledge that most people don’t have. It’s not just some house that a realtor can turn over quickly. It’s really about knowing the land.”
Cecil was insistent on maintaining the working landscape of West Marin. “He didn’t want it to become a bedroom community,” John said. Nor did Cecil have any interest in chumming with the urban type: “He liked to act like a farmer; he was never a suit and tie guy.”
Over the years, Cecil became an authority for young couples, families and other outsiders intent on relocating to the area. He was active in the Marin Association of Realtors for 47 years, serving as treasurer and board member, and receiving the group’s “Realtor of the Year” award in 1985.
He was also a dedicated volunteer. He spent countless hours raising funds for local student-based initiatives, playing Santa Claus at an annual realtor charity event, and roasting turkeys for the Dance Palace’s Thanksgiving dinner. He was heavily involved with the Lions Club, coaxing several area residents into yearly membership.
“Cecil was just a great guy and a friend to everybody,” said Pat Hollern, the current club president. “He was a bright guy who worked on making the community a better place at all times, who was open to new ideas and who supported them readily.”
The Lions Club has supported numerous charitable causes throughout the years, Hollern added, and “Cecil has been a driving force behind much of it.”
Cecil was both creative and highly resourceful, two traits that were perhaps never better exemplified than on a family trip to Tuscany, when, faced with an inoperable oven, he baked a loaf of fresh bread using old roofing tiles and a tin can. “It was the most fabulous bread,” Carrie said. “It was to die for.”
Cecil’s personal life had some ups and downs, including failed first and second marriages. Eventually, in the early 90s, he met Dorito Marringa, a recent widow. Dorito, who owned ten acres in Inverness at the time, had asked Cecil to help her subdivide it. He acquiesced, and asked if she would have dinner with him. “And the rest,” Dorito said, “is history.”
The two loved to travel, and embarked on numerous transcontinental train trips. On their first ride together they took a side excursion to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they were immediately transfixed by the fall foliage. “Cecil was colorblind but he said even he could see those colors,” Dorito said.
Cecil and Dorito volunteered together on several occasions, in spite of Cecil’s declining health, and were candid patrons of the Dance Palace. Recently, in honor of their service, the community center nominated them for a Heart of Marin award. The winners will be announced this Thursday.
Cecil Asman is survived by his partner, Dorito Marringa; brother, John Hannah, Jr.; son, Mark Asman; daughter, Carrie Asman; and granddaughter, Anna Christiane Schneider. A celebration of Cecil Asman’s life will take place on Sunday, February 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Dance Palace. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to the West Marin Lion’s Club for the Youth Center, to the Dance Palace, or to a charity of choice.