William C. ‘Bill’ Ashe

Devoted husband, dedicated father, committed conservationist, Harvard Citizen of Note

Bill Ashe. (Courtesy photo)

William “Bill” Ashe, a Harvard resident for more than 40 years, passed away peacefully at home on Dec. 14, 2017, at the age of 88. A devoted husband, Bill is survived by his wife of 64 years, Betty Ashe; five sons: Jeff, Dan, Donald, Kenneth, and Andrew; and eight grandchildren: Mary, Michael, Matthew, Nick, Ryan, Baylor, Dylan, and Annabel.

Bill lived a life of service, as a veteran, civil servant, conservationist, and community leader. He was born on May 28, 1929, in New Haven, Connecticut. He was raised in Ansonia, Connecticut, and after serving in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Japan, he graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in forestry. Following his graduation, Bill began his career at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he spent almost 40 years. Bill held a unique role, and in many ways served as realty specialist, identifying pieces of land that are particularly important for wildlife and working to purchase them, in effect creating and expanding our nation’s National Wildlife Refuges. During his career, he was directly responsible for securing and preserving more than a million acres throughout the country, including land that is now part of the J.N. Ding Darling Refuge in Florida, the Okefenokee Refuge in Georgia, the Sevilleta Refuge in New Mexico, the Silvio O. Conte Refuge stretching along the Connecticut River in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and the Oxbow Refuge here in Devens and Harvard. He also worked tirelessly to recover several endangered species to the Northeast. Notably, in 1982, he sponsored the program that returned bald eagles to the state for the first time since the early 1900s.

Bill first met his wife, Betty, when he was 6 years old and she was 5. At the time, Bill was serving as the ring bearer and Betty the flower girl at the same wedding. It was not love at first sight. Betty actually admitted to throwing a rock at Bill at some point before the ceremony when she thought he was not paying proper attention to his duties. But over time, their fondness for each other grew, and a love story began after Bill returned from his service in Japan. They married in 1953 and lived, with their five sons, in Atlanta, Georgia; Annandale, Virginia; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Harvard in 1976. Bill was known for a stoic, serious demeanor, but in those private, quieter life moments he could be softer—both loving and affectionate. No one knew this more than Betty, who claimed that he wrote her wonderful love letters and, every once in awhile, would sing to her at night.

Dedicated to his community

In addition to his career and family, Bill was dedicated to his community. He served on Harvard’s Planning Board, the Conservation Trust, the Council on Aging, and the Board of Selectmen. He also served as a director of the Nashua River Watershed Association.

At Annual Town Meeting in March 2008, Bill (along with Bob Lerner) was named a Citizen of Note, an annual honor bestowed on notable citizens in town. The town’s 2007 Annual Report noted that although Bill and Lerner were sometimes on opposite sides of an issue, they sought common ground and were committed to working for the good of the town. Bill was cited particularly for his “legacy of land protection and stewardship.” In May 2016, Bill was also honored for his many contributions as a conservationist at a dedication ceremony for the Bill Ashe Visitor Facility, a beautiful new building in Devens that serves as a gateway to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge and the Nashua River.

No formal funeral will be held. A celebration of Bill’s life is being planned for Saturday, Jan. 27, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Harvard Town Hall. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Bill’s memory be made to the Nashua River Watershed Association or to the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Or plant a tree. Bill was fond of maples, elms, and, not surprisingly, ashes.

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