Edward Peyre Ashby, Jr., 98 years young, passed away peacefully on Sunday, February 10, at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Ed was born to parents Edward P. Ashby, Sr. and Virginia (Heard) Ashby in Florence, South Carolina in 1919. Ed, also known as “Bubba” to his family, was from an old South Carolina family with several cousins, nieces and nephews who remain there. His brother, William Ashby, of Summerville, South Carolina, survives him. Ed is also survived by his many good friends in Fairbanks, at the Pioneer Home, throughout Alaska and on the many stops between here and his family in the south. His parents and sister, Virginia Ashby Griffin, predeceased him.
At age 17, Ed graduated in South Carolina and his cousin Billy Johnson, who lived in Washington, DC, left after high school for an epic adventure in 1937. They had been inspired by the 1935 flight and subsequent crash of Wiley Post and Will Rogers in Alaska and became enamored of the idea of going to Alaska. They both joined the Merchant Marines and were assigned to a ship going to Cuba. By working on several different cargo and passenger ships to Cuba, then off to France and Germany and back to the U.S. on the ship President Harding with Charles Lindbergh and Sonia Heine as passengers, Ed went through the Panama Canal to get to the northwest coast.
Ed and his cousin Billy met up again in Seattle in 1938, rigged a small 24 foot open skiff with a small 26 four cylinder Dodge engine, built a deck on the open hull, added some supplies and took off from Seattle headed to Alaska in April. After many hard lessons, the providence of kindly fishing boat captains and some plain old good luck in the next 29 days, they finally made their way to the floating dock at Ketchikan on the Alaskan panhandle.
Around that time, Ed joined the Alaskan Fishermen’s Union, working for a few months in summer. This could have been an exciting career, but turned out to be a rather short lived, but beneficial, relationship.
Back in the States in 1941, Ed enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which was the precursor to the US Air Force. He was on the East Coast, training in radio communications and as a mechanic. He was assigned to an aircraft crew and was the radioman and often the gunner on a B-24 aircraft, in the Pacific theatre. He and his crew flew all over and saw plenty of action in the air and on the ground during World War II.
Near the end of the war, Ed was an aviation escort for whom he called “Dugout Doug”, General Douglas MacArthur, to meet with the Japanese General Umezu and the Japanese Foreign Minister and therefore was present in Tokyo Bay on the battleship Missouri at the Japanese surrender in 1945.
After an honorable discharge from the service, Ed enrolled at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, graduating with a degree in Biological Sciences in 1953.
Ed had many jobs and interests over his long life, especially those involving mechanical challenges. He was a skilled heavy equipment operator, a fisherman, a student, worked up north on the pipeline, a gold miner, an airplane mechanic, a counselor, a fisherman, a friend to hundreds in the Fairbanks community, a consummate fixer of anything broken and a proud - lifelong Democrat!
Ed was fiercely independent, which is underscored by his not infrequent trips to his native South Carolina, during which he always drove, even in the winter. Having several cars over the years, often large and comfortable Cadillacs, Ed enjoyed his long, solo road trips. He spent weeks each trip visiting friends and family along the way. He last drove back to Alaska alone from North Carolina at age 89.
A few years ago, Ed was honored at a ceremony at Bassett Army Hospital on Ft. Wainwright, where he was awarded a 60+ year pin and commendation for his volunteer service to the American Red Cross, which he joined in 1943. He manned the hospitality cart at Bassett, delivering candy, books and cheer to patients and volunteered in the Red Cross office. He helped Santa every Christmas as an ambassador to kids and grownups alike. He made so many people happy over the years. Well-done, old friend.
Ed truly enjoyed music, listening as an avid fan to classical KUAC radio and his large, eclectic collection of tapes and discs of opera, folk dance music, accordion and other music. Until recently, he played harmonica with the Hot Denali Harps, a fine music group for many years. He played harmonica for much of his life, endearing his listeners and charming those caught unaware.
Always an inventor type of guy, Ed worked on inventions he patented over several years. In 2001, he was awarded a major prize at the UAF Arctic Invention Competition for his invention of a bathtub-assisting device.
Ed was a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo #4. About three years ago, after living on his own for 95+ years, Ed moved into the Fairbanks Pioneer Home to enjoy the company of travelers on the long road of life. His friends and family appreciate the friendship from the fellow residents as well as the care he received from the Pioneer Home staff. They also want to especially commend the nurses and staff at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, 2-South, for their skill and compassionate care during Ed’s last days of his life.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Ed Ashby’s memory to KUAC -FM at PO Box 755620, Fairbanks, AK 99775-5620 or www.KUAC.org. You are welcome to attend a memorial service for Ed at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home at 2221 Eagan Street at 2pm on Friday, February 23, 2018. To sign the online guest book, go to www.Blanchardfamilyfuneralhome.com.
As many of you reading this already know, Ed would always enthusiastically say, “It’s a great day!” upon answering his phone. Wherever you are Ed, I bet you make it a “Great Day!”