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ACU Remembers: Dr. Tony Ash

By on December 8, 2017 in ACU Remembers, Alumni News with 24 Comments

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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 acu.edu/giveonline 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. Galen Harrill says:

    I loved Dr. Ash for continually showing me that scholarship should always serve ministry and not vice versa… his love for the church was infectious….

  2. Anna Griffith says:

    When I aspired to attend ACU as a MUCH older student, I first met Tony in Albuquerque. When I inquired about attending, Tony asked, “What do you want to take?”

    With great enthusiasm, I answered, I want to study the book of Luke!”

    He simply remarked, “I teach the book of Luke.”

    With that beginning, I attended many of his classes and we became friends. In some of the one-week marathon graduate classes, I would bring “chex party mix,” always a favorite.

    Later during one of Dr. Fair’s classes, I noticed some fingers gestering through the crack in the door. It was Tony, signaling me to come out of class. I finally did. I mean, one just did not up and walk out of Dr. Fair’s class!

    But he was lenient. When I got back, Fair asked what that was all about.

    “Oh, somebody wanted to ask me something.”

    “Who was it?”

    “Oh, a friend of yours; a really old guy.”

    “Oh. I know who that is. What did he want?”

    “A recipe.”

    An easy, humorous relationship between good friends, with my grade on the line!

  3. Dick Ady says:

    I went to Florida Christian College in 1953 to sit at the feet of Homer Hailey, but I also benefited from my close friendship with Tony Ash. When I first arrived on the campus, some pointed to Tony and said to me, “There is the next Billy Graham in churches of Christ.” He was indeed an eloquent speaker and an outstanding member of the debate team.

    At FCC, any couple caught holding hands got a black mark on his and her records. Tony and Barbara were obviously in love, and the Lord only knows how many black marks were awarded them. I traveled with them by bus on a five-state choral tour during spring vacation in 1954, and their mutual affection was a thing of beauty.

    I was at Pepperdine University the day Tony was introduced as the new chairman of the Pepperdine Department of Religion. I have kept up with him through the years, and my wife, Maudine, and I have always enjoyed seeing Tony and Barbara at each lectureship and Summit. Our hearts are sad that we will not see him at ACU again, but we look forward to seeing him around God’s throne of grace in the life to come. I was honored to be his friend and fellow-servant.

  4. Mary F. Waltman says:

    What a great man I never got to meet. I watched his series on “Walking with C. S. Lewis” and was spellbound through it all. I know I would have loved being friends with Dr. Ash and I am saddened that he just passed. My sincere condolences to the family and the vast number of lives he touched including mine.

  5. Philip Slate says:

    Tony and I first met when we were on opposites in intercollegiate debate. Marlin Connelly and I from Lipscomb debated Tony and Andrew Conley (then in Florida College) in Tallahassee, FL in the mid-1950s. Decades passed with only occasional meetings. We intersected again at ACU. Among other things we enjoyed hiking with Ian Fair in the Colorado mountains. A stimulating friend.
    Philip Slate

  6. Keith Bellamy says:

    Only met Tony one time and we shared in some fellowship. Appreciated his kindness very much.

  7. Trisha Norsworthy says:

    Dr. Ash was a favorite professor of mine, as well. His readings about Safed, the sage, and Keturah, his wife were memorable. My husband, Larry (‘72), eventually read their stories to his students at Northeastern Christian Jr. Col.
    When Tony visited NCJC 20 yrs later, he stayed with us. On the way to our house, he remarked that many of us from the Vietnam-hippie era had transformed into conservative consumers. As we entered our minimally habitable still-under-construction abode, he laughed and opined that we surely hadn’t joined our peers!
    Next day in chapel Tony encouraged our students to put more emphasis on non-physical matters when choosing a mate. In the front row, my husband spoke up (so all could hear) saying, “Tony is that what you did?” Tony shook his head with a light blush saying, “My wife also was attractive in heart!”
    We pray for Barbara and their family. But, Tony is busy now getting lots of answers in God’s presence.

  8. Annette Storm says:

    Tony was one of dad’s dearest friends. Dad baptised and married Tony and Barbara. Both Tony and Barbara are dearly remembered and loved by the Clinton Storm family.
    Barbara, we are keeping you and the family in prayer.
    Much love,
    Annette

  9. David P Himes says:

    Like many, he was my favorite Bible professor

  10. Grady Bryan (90) says:

    The wisdom and intensity of faith of Dr. Ash conveyed through humility and wit continues to stimulate my personal walk toward faith. His lectures raised questions and inspired us to wrestle with the text. He always seemed to be “in on” a private bit of humor that kept a tone of mirth in his conversations. And, I was always impressed and inspired by a professor who ran marathons and hiked mountain trails. His relationship with Dr. Fair was an example of adult friendship that continues to be significant in my life. Thankful for his faith and gentle, abiding presence!

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