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ACU Remembers: Dr. Tony Ash

By on December 8, 2017 in ACU Remembers, Alumni News with 27 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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  1. What a wonderful tribute to an amazing man of God, and his endeavor to bring Christ to life through his love of the Bible, C.A. Lewis, and the Chronicles of Narnia. I literally stumbled upon Professor Ash through my subscription with PureFlix Christian movies. I’ve read a few of C.S. Lewis’s books, and when I saw this series I was very excited to have such an in-depth study on an amazing Christian author’s life. I’ve nearly finished the series teaching of Professor at Ash, and have an even more profound love, excitement, and admiration of C.S. Lewis’s life and work, and the commitment of Dr. Tony Ash to further enhance and help hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – gain a deeper insight into this incredible work of faith.

  2. I was a biblical studies student of Tony Ash’s at the Biblical Institute for Christian Studies at University Ave Church of Christ from 1978 to 1982.

    I can remember sitting in an upper room my room mate, Tony and me having a class on his 2nd favorite book of the bible.

    The book of Luke. (The chronicles of Narnia are his first fav book of the bible)

    We were learning greek so we could nail a scene. He taught the bible like it was a resource to be used as material to make a movie of your life. He made you create SKITS. Jesus meets the woman at the well. And we had to imagine the voice and act out. Me being the WOMAN once in class cuz it was only Ed and Me and he got to be Jesus. In any case, it was a hot spring day.

    I looked over and Tony had leaned back in his seat and was snoring. The professor fell asleep in class. I noticed my room mate Ed put his head down looked up saw Tony asleep and then he laid it down and went to sleep again.

    Needless to say, I will never forget Tony Ash he instilled in me a love for Narnia, Story telling and Luke as well as Nehimiah.

    As a result I took his boost into life and together with Ed we started a church in Windsor CT. Then launched a campaign to start now 4 orphanages and schools in Haiti. Hope For Haiti’s Children.

    While in Haiti I had the opportunity to preach on the national radio to 8 million people. I play-acted the scene of Jesus and the Woman at the Well. I did this in French which I had to learn.

    Children are alive and living well now in Haiti after all these years. The stories that Tony told and made us tell still are in the hearts of a nation.

    Kudos Tony.
    He also told me that agape was God’s love.
    Agape was not a feeling it is a decision.

    Decide to Love.

  3. Avatar Donita Mallard, San Antonio, Texas says:

    I’m truly saddened by this article because I’ve recently fallen in love with C.S. Lewis and in doing so, I spent hours with Prof. Ash while watching his video series, “Walking with C.S. Lewis.” I also fell in love with Prof. Ash and his soft and caring voice, his obvious love of the Lord, and his ability to calm me in anxious times just by watching this series. There are very few people a person will meet in his or her life who touch us in a deep spiritual way. There have been only two in mine that I met in person. Now, I can say three, although I didn’t get to meet Prof. Ash in person. I’m saddened by that. But also very grateful. He touched my life after his death. We all can only hope to do the same for someone once we ourselves are gone from this life.

  4. Avatar 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….

  5. Avatar 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!

  6. Avatar 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.

  7. Avatar 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.

  8. Avatar 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

  9. Avatar Keith Bellamy says:

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

  10. Avatar 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.

  11. Avatar 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,

  12. Avatar David P Himes says:

    Like many, he was my favorite Bible professor

  13. Avatar 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!

  14. Avatar 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.

  15. Avatar 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.

  16. Avatar 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.

  17. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar 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.

  18. Avatar 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.

  19. Avatar Vyneta G Davis says:

    Loved hearing him speak! He was a great man!

  20. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar 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.

  21. Avatar 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.

  22. Avatar 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.

  23. Avatar 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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