This story originally appeared in Saint Louis University's Newslink.
Written by Nancy Solomon
Retired Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Passes Away
ST. LOUIS -- Cheryl Cavallo, Ph.D., assistant professor emerita of physical therapy at Saint Louis University, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 24, after a valiant battle with breast cancer. She was 66.
"Cheryl saw her profession as a gift, but it was a gift because she could serve other people," said Darina Sargeant, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy at SLU, and one of Cavallo's closest friends.
"She was doing ‘patient-centered' care before it became a popular approach. She instilled that commitment to her patients in her co-workers and in every student she taught. She was always making you push yourself harder, and embodied the best of SLU as a woman for others."
A passionate Billiken basketball fan, Cavallo received her undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees from Saint Louis University and was a member of the faculty for 32 years, retiring in 2011. During her tenure, she received multiple awards for teaching and service, including the prestigious Nancy McNeir Ring award, which is the University's highest award for teaching excellence; the 2011 Doisy College of Health Sciences Alumni Merit Award; and 2011 Saint Louis University Woman of Achievement Award.
She kept a photo that captured a surprise birthday visit from Billiken basketball great Anthony Bonner on her desk, and, surrounded by family, smiled as the Billikens triumphed over Butler on Friday.
"Cheryl was the biggest Billiken fan who walked the face of the earth," said Ann Hayes, DPT, a long-time colleague and associate professor of physical therapy at SLU.
She also was a tough educator with a soft spot who set high standards and motivated her students to strive for excellence, Hayes added.
"She always had the time for students -- for anyone. Nothing ever took too long," she said. "You respected her and didn't want to disappoint her."
Cavallo touched the lives of hundreds of physical therapy students -- engaging them in the classroom and in clinical settings and inviting them to join her at health fairs and continuing education programs. She would meet with students at a time that they found convenient -- at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. -- to offer extra mentoring and help.
Mark Reinking, Ph.D., chair of the department of physical therapy and athletic training, remembers Cavallo proctoring students before their practice board exams and final exams and encouraging them to sing Christmas carols as a way of calming themselves down.
Cavallo served on multiple University committees and task forces on academic integrity, student conduct, civility in the classroom and sexual assault. She was the faculty advisor of the Physical Therapy Student Council, instrumental in developing the tutoring program for the SLU medical campus and an early and fervent supporter of the Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence.
"There are students who graduated 20 years ago -- some from cities outside the St. Louis area, such as Chicago and Indianapolis -- who came to the hospital to sit with her, to be with her," Sargeant said.
"I'm getting email after email from her former students, grieving her loss and sharing the impact she had on their lives," Reinking added. "It was never about her. It was always about others."
Cavallo also was passionate about giving back to the community. She recruited colleagues and students to help at the National Wheelchair Games when they were held in St. Louis and provided pro bono physical therapy services for patients in the metropolitan St. Louis area and in Haiti and El Salvador. Both directly and through the students she prepared as physical therapists, Cavallo reached patients too numerous to count.
Humble and determined to put others first, Cavallo taught by example, kneeling down to be at the same level as patients so she could look them directly in the eye, Hayes remembered.
"She had a servant's heart and was so committed to others," Reinking said.
Cavallo is survived by her lifelong partner A.J. Dunn; brother Larry (Gail) Cavallo; sister Terry Cavallo; niece Caroline Cavallo; and nephew Skyler Cavallo.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 2 at Saint Francis Xavier College Church, 3628 Lindell Blvd., at Saint Louis University. A memorial service and the burial will be at 10 a.m. Monday, March 4 at SS Simon & Jude Parish, 304 N. Macoupin, in Gillespie, Ill. Arrangements are handled by Kravanya Funeral Home in Gillespie.
Gifts in Cheryl Cavallo's memory may be made in support of the mission of the Physical Therapy program at Saint Louis University and will be used for purposes reflecting Cheryl's passion and lifetime commitment to the education of her students and their preparation in the Jesuit tradition to become men and women for others.
Click here to make a gift to the Cheryl Cavallo Memorial Fund.