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ACU Remembers: Dr. Tony Ash

By on December 8, 2017 in ACU Remembers, Alumni News with 26 Comments


Dr. Tony Ash
Dr. Tony Ash

Dr. Anthony Lee “Tony” Ash, an Abilene Christian University theology professor whose lectures on C.S. Lewis and biblical teachings brought Christianity to life for thousands of students, died Dec. 6, 2017, in Abilene at age 86.

He was born Oct. 29, 1931, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and graduated from Eugene (Oregon) High School in 1949. Ash earned an Associate in Arts degree at Florida Christian College in 1954, and married Barbara Bailey a year later. He earned an M.A. in Old Testament from ACU in 1959, and a Ph.D. degree in church history from the University of Southern California in 1966.

For nearly 50 years, Ash researched, read, studied, lectured and wrote about noted theologian C.S. “Jack” Lewis and his essays, lectures and books. A Bible professor for more than 40 years at ACU, he also was the author of more than a dozen books. He recently completed Walking With C.S. Lewis, a 10-part video series.

“Tony was such a wonderful storyteller,” said David Swearingen, a longtime friend and former vice president of corporate communications with Johnson & Johnson. “His solid Christian faith and his passion for C.S. Lewis’ works energized him in the classroom. He could quote long passages without missing a word. In particular, he loved The Chronicles of Narnia and when he told those stories his face lit up with expressions of excitement, delight, consternation and fear.”

Ash taught Bible at ACU from 1962-72 before his appointment as a professor at Pepperdine University and chair of its Religion Division from 1972-75. He taught at the Austin (Texas) Graduate School of Theology from 1975-85 before returning to ACU. After teaching, writing, lecturing and preaching for more than 60 years around the world, he retired in 2015 as professor emeritus of Bible, missions and ministry.

“He was a legend in his own time, as a beloved Bible professor, academic and friend to countless people, and especially to his students,” said ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64). Tony and his wife, Barbara, have many spiritual children, as their lives enveloped several generations of students at Abilene Christian and at Pepperdine University. Tony’s love for God’s Word and his extraordinary ability to communicate it through teaching, preaching and writing will long be remembered by all whose lives he touched.”

Dr. Ian Fair (’68), former dean of ACU’s College of Biblical Studies, recalled a time when Ash walked unannounced into a meeting Fair was having with an alumni couple and their daughter, a prospective student.

Tony Ash“I was trying to explain the academic advantage of attending ACU. Tony immediately recognized the couple, having officiated at their wedding more than 20 years ago,” Fair said. “He called them by name, mentioning the wife’s maiden name and their grades in his class. They were stunned. I turned to their daughter and asked, ‘What would it be like to attend a university where in 20-plus years your professor would remember your maiden name and your grade in his class?’ She decided to enroll that day.”

Aside from his lifelong commitment to students and higher education, Ash was an avid outdoorsman. He ran 13 marathons, including the New York City Marathon, and hiked the Appalachian Trail, as well as trails in Oregon, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Ash was an active member of Abilene’s University Church of Christ. Earlier, he was a pulpit minister in Georgia and California and Texas, including five Church of Christ congregations in Abilene: Central, University, South 11th and Willis, Minter Lane and Highway 36.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Jesse and Virginia (Coleman) Ash. Among survivors are Barbara, his wife of 62 years; sisters Jane Byrd, Judy Barr, Susan Anderson, Lynn Ash and Cathy Hannaford, and their children and grandchildren.

A short memorial service will be held at noon on Monday, Dec. 11, in ACU’s Chapel on the Hill. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers contributions to the Siburt Institute at ACU (online at or mailed to Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132).

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Ron Hadfield

About the Author

About the Author: Ron Hadfield is editor of ACU Today magazine and assistant vice president for university communication at Abilene Christian, where he began work in 1983 overseeing Creative Services at his alma mater.
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  1. Kim Martin ‘75 says:

    Many of my contemporaries will remember his “bushing” talk in chapel. One of the few faculty members of our day who had the cred to poke fun at our lack of propriety in the display of public affection around campus.

  2. Ann Rabb Matlack says:

    I had him for my sophomore Bible class in 1962. I will always remember him for his sense of humor. He was talking about the verse where Paul said, “I will always be content no matter what state I am in” and he added his little comment of “Even it it is Texas”. He will be remembered by all who knew him.

  3. Jim Key says:

    When I enrolled at ACC (ACU) in 1964 I was an avid handball player. I was playing at the local YMCA and noticed Tony warming up to play a match (I didn’t know who he was). I asked him if I could warm up with him. Most adults don’t want to play with an 18 year old kid. He said he had a partner but he would hit a few with me. From that experience, we started playing every Tuesday and Thursday. On one occassion Tony came into the locker room exasperated because he had gotten a speeding ticket going to fast through a school zone. No matter how hard I tried I could not win against him. Attended Minter Lane where I enjoyed his preaching.

  4. James Hopper says:

    He preached a gospel meeting for our church in a Danbury, CT in 1972. While visiting in our home he presented us with a set of the Chronicles of Narnia with instructions to read them to our son Michael was was one year old at the time. A few years later we did! All our boys loved the books.

    • Vivian McClanahan Ferguson says:

      I love this. He was so kind. He held a meeting for our congregation, too, in N. Richland Hills (suburb on the no. east side of Ft. Worth, TX.) He was a natural & so logical. Great man of God’s. Prayers for his family & friends.

  5. Eddie Sharp says:

    He taught Luke to me.
    We ran so many miles together.
    He encouraged my preaching.
    He was a friend.
    One of God’s great blessings.
    He has run the great race well.

  6. Vyneta G Davis says:

    Loved hearing him speak! He was a great man!

  7. Ron Burch says:

    A great man . He officiated at our wedding 49 years ago. He was the facility sponsor of the Knights scocial club and pitched for our softball team . Lots of good memories. Ron Burch class of 67.

    • James Hopper says:

      Yes he was Ron! Amazing man. I played shortstop with him on the mound a couple of years on those teams. He was a hard throwing, curve ball magician on the mound.

  8. Julie Smith Harris (92) says:

    Tony was dear to three generations of my family. He worked with my grandparents, C.L. & Laura Smith for many years at Minter Lane. He even preached my grandmother’s funeral. He knew my parents, and taught them. He taught me to love C.S. Lewis and the minor prophets. I still use so much of what I learned from him — from how to do group projects well, to images of Jesus in Film, to simply the joy of the Word. He was a dear encourager to me throughout my college years, and even a chastiser at times. I’m grateful to have learned from him, and while I grieve his passing, I know that he has only gone further up and farther in.

  9. john bankston, class of 66 says:

    I loved that Christian man. I always thought of writing a letter to him to remind him of my love for him, but now I am late. He was my model while I preached in my younger days, and my teacher even now as I relate to God. To see him meticulously do his expository work for the first part of a sermon, AND THEN get all knotted up and scrunching his face and let out his passion was an example I even tried to emulate while teaching poetry to high school students. How corny, I thought, when he came into my freshman Life of Christ class…with his little city-boy shoes, and faking spilling his coffee as he did a Johnny Carson-like stumble getting upon the podium.(my country boy prejudice). Wow! As soon as he got serious I was in awe and grace. Never saw another teacher who could hold us so spellbound in class. More than a lecture! I Love Tony.

  10. David Virden, Class of 1980 says:

    Just add me to the innumerable students of his who loved him and enjoyed his courses whether it be cs Lewis or any of the other courses he taught. My wife and I were both influenced by him during the time he was envolved with the singles. We met at one of the retreats he organized for us singles. A few months afterward, we were pleased to have him officiate at our wedding. Now, thirty-eight years later we are still married! We are sad to see him go, but we know where he went and we look forward to joining him in the future. Rest In Peace you lovely soul!

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