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Bill Cahir
Photo Courtesy Express-Times

SCASD Remembers Bill Cahir Through Memorial Scholarship Fund

Everyone who knew Bill Cahir always knew he would do special things in his life. From his humble beginnings at State High to his final days as an American hero, Cahir lived up to his reputation.

Cahir was born in Bellefonte in 1968 to parents John and Mary Anne Cahir, and was raised in State College.

“He was a very kind person,” said John. “Of all of our four children, he was by far the first to give up the favored seat, or the last piece of cake. He was the one who wrote the most letters and sent the most gifts.”

As a teenager at State High, Cahir showed a passion for journalism and communication. He led State High’s newspaper The Student Voice as its editor, then went on to work for student newspapers at Penn State before graduating cum laude with an English degree in 1990. In his career as a journalist, he wrote for The Express-Times in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Newhouse News Service, receiving several awards for his writing. He also worked on the Congressional staff of Senators Ted Kennedy and Harris Wofford. Through it all, he carried with him the same passion to always report the truth and take a stand for what he believed in.

Defending Our Country

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Cahir’s world—like so many others—flipped upside-down. He was deeply affected by the tragedy and felt that he had to act. The Sunday after 9/11, his father said, Cahir was already talking to him about joining the military. At the age of 34, Cahir formulated an atypical plan, and it took his family and friends by surprise.

“I was concerned that he would have no influence as a Marine,” said John. “They are very rank-conscious, and he was too old to be commissioned. But I was wrong, as I often am.”

As it turns out, Cahir became something close to famous among the Marines. According to his father, he was known to colonels and generals by name. He was promoted three times during his service. In total, he served three tours: two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Despite his family’s concerns, he had become a Marine in the truest sense: respected, admired, and loved by his comrades.

Running for Office
After returning from his first deployment, Cahir started yet another mission: running for Congress in Pennsylvania. He came in second in the primary by a narrow margin, and garnered many supporters from both parties. SCASD Education Foundation board member Doug Loviscky recalled that he actually switched his political affiliation for that single election just to vote for Cahir.

“He could make things happen and not just talk a big game,” said Loviscky. “He was selfless.”

Afghanistan Deployment
And, as he usually did, Cahir had a unique and selfless vision when he was called back for his second deployment: To build a school for girls in Afghanistan. Shortly before his death, he traveled to the Bagram Air Base to personally ask the Commanding General for funding for the schools.

Bill Cahir (center) during his service in
Photo courtesy US Marine Corps Cpl. Artur Shvartsberg

On August 13, 2009, Cahir was killed in action by a single enemy shot. He was 40 years old. His wife, René E. Browne, was pregnant with their twin daughters at the time. His death left a void in the lives of his family, friends, colleagues, and so many others whose lives he had impacted. But Cahir continues to live on through all those who remember him.

Cahir’s Legacy Lives On
“[The twins] never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but they hear stories about him every single day,” said Browne. “Stories about Bill as a boy, as a reporter, as a Marine. Our daughter Elizabeth tells me that writing is her favorite subject in school, and Caroline just told me that she wants to be an author when she grows up.”

And Cahir’s impact has done more than live on—it has grown. He has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, two Combat Action Ribbons, and the Purple Heart, among other forms of recognition. In 2014, legislators voted to name New Jersey’s Route 22 toll bridge The Sergeant William John Cahir Memorial Bridge in his honor. His life and death have been covered by many news sources, all citing his patriotism and commitment to his country.

“I’ve had senior military officers tell me that he was the most patriotic person they’d ever met,” said his father.

The Bill Cahir Memorial Scholarship Fund for Journalism
Now, Cahir’s kindness will live on in a new way: By shaping the lives of State High students just like him through the Bill Cahir Memorial Scholarship Fund for Journalism, established by the SCASD Education Foundation. The fund will give students in State High’s Journalism Program important opportunities for a future in the field, such as summer camps, conferences, workshops, and competitions. The scholarship will be awarded to students who show enthusiasm and passion for the field, commitment to the program, and leadership potential. An exemplar of the foundation’s mission, the fund will provide students with an enriched and innovative learning experience.

Cahir, in uniform while at boot camp, with his parents
John and Mary Anne
Photo courtesy Ellen Cahir McFarland

The idea for the fund first came from Loviscky, who wanted to figure out how to honor Cahir in a way that Cahir would have done—not just with empty words, but with action. According to Loviscky, what Cahir really cared about was helping to make an impact in his community, and the scholarship fund through the SCASD Education Foundation seemed like the most fitting way to accomplish that. The fund’s development was a joint effort between the foundation’s Executive Director Paul Olivett, State High journalism teachers Becca Thorsen and Sarah Rito, the school district, and Cahir’s family.

“I think it’s a terrific idea, and I think Bill would be really honored and humbled,” said Browne of the fund. “He would be 100 percent supportive of the mission.”

According to Browne, Cahir developed his passion for communicating as a teenager at State High, and the skills he learned as a journalism student there were what shaped him so well for the rest of his life. How to write, how to communicate, how to build and nurture relationships—those were the same skills that were so important for Cahir to transfer to his work as a politician and a Marine.

“A rock solid foundation in journalism skills is something that is going to help prepare these students to be more civically engaged in many different aspects of their lives,” said Browne.

As of today, thousands of schools have been built or rehabilitated in Afghanistan, and it was Bill Cahir and others like him who paved the way. Now, the Bill Cahir Memorial Scholarship Fund hopes to help pave the way for others to make their own difference in the world. And according to Cahir’s family and friends, that is all he ever wanted.

For more information about how you can donate to the Bill Cahir Memorial Scholarship Fund for Journalism, click here.