Columbia, SC — I FIRST MET the Rev. George Ashford Sr. during his run for Richland County Council in 1991.
The more I talked to him, the more I liked him — and the more I was convinced he probably wouldn’t win. It wasn’t because he wasn’t a legitimate candidate or that he was running against tough opposition. It was because he was, well, too honest.
The Rev. Ashford, who died Nov. 26, was a straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense kind of man who told you exactly what he thought and bowed to no one other than the God he served. Unfortunately, voters don’t always appreciate that in their elected officials, too often opting for the smooth-talking politician making big — and many times unrealistic — promises. Still the Rev. Ashford made it into a run-off, although he came up short of winning an opportunity to serve the people of Richland County as a council member.
Nevertheless, he didn’t fail to serve. As a matter of fact, he spent his lifetime serving — from his family to his country to his neighbors to his insurance clients to the African Methodist Episcopal Church to Christianity at large. The Rev. Ashford, who entered the ministry in July 1948, was an Army veteran who served during the Korean War and received three Bronze Service Stars and a United Nations Service Medal. An Allen University graduate, he taught in South Carolina schools and received theological training from Dickerson Theological Seminary, Allen and Columbia Bible College.
After his brief teaching career, he continued preaching and also became a top salesman with N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co., a position he held for 31 years. He pastored throughout South Carolina for more than 60 years. Also, he served as presiding elder of the Wateree District of the 7th Episcopal District (South Carolina) of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After retiring as presiding elder, he became a faithful member of Bethel AME Church in Columbia.
It was at Bethel AME — about 20 years after his run for public office — that I became reacquainted with the Rev. Ashford, 84 at the time of his death; we were fellow church members as well as members of the ministerial staff. I immediately discovered that he hadn’t changed. He was as direct and unflinching as ever. You knew where he stood, like it or not. But he was no grouch: He loved to laugh and have fun. He offered me many words of advice on being a minister, a husband and a father. None of his advice was sugar-coated, and I appreciated that.
I wasn’t surprised at all to read in his obituary that among his hobbies — along with cooking and gardening — was “taking charge.”
As he delivered his father’s eulogy, the Rev. George Ashford Jr. talked a lot about how the late Rev. George Ashford Sr. watched over his family and helped him become a man. He also talked about some of the quiet ways in which his father reached out to others, such as the times he personally paid the insurance premiums for people who couldn’t, so important death benefits stayed active.
The Rev. George Ashford Sr. was one of the many family members, friends and neighbors this community has lost in recent months. From time to time, I write about some of those whose names are published on the obituary pages of this newspaper. We might not know them personally and perhaps have never heard of them, but in their own way — perhaps only in their own family or on their own block or in their own church or civic organization — they helped build the fabric of our community.
Here are some others who lived, worked, volunteered and worshipped among us who are now gone — but not forgotten:
• On Nov. 16, our community lost another dedicated servant — Carnella Arthur Frazier, 80. In 1953, Mrs. Frazier was employed as secretary in the law firm of future U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Perry in Spartanburg. In 1960, the firm joined a partnership in Columbia; the law offices of Jenkins Perry and Pride successfully fought to integrate public facilities in South Carolina. Mrs. Frazier worked long hours preparing the legal documents necessary for this cause. When Judge Perry was appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Military Appeals and later to the U.S. District Court judgeship in Columbia, Mrs. Frazier remained his administrative assistant until her retirement in 2007.
Mrs. Frazier, a talented artist, exhibited her painting at the S.C. State Fair. In 1963, she married Rev. Joseph Frazier of Manning and was deeply involved in his ministry; in addition, she often was guest speaker at many events.
• Verena Vivian S. Smith, 66, died Jan. 23. The Allen University graduate retired from S.C. ETV after 30 years. A devoted member of St. John Baptist Church in Hopkins, she served numerous roles, including as the pastor’s secretary, president and vice president of the trustee spouses’ ministry and chair of the Board of Christian Education. She also served on the homeless feeding and the praise and worship ministries, among others.
Edna L. Young died Jan. 14 at age 90. The Hampton University graduate taught at Waverly Elementary School for 40 years and was founder of the “Just Say No Club” at Hyatt Park Elementary School. She mentored teachers and was a devoted member and servant at Bethel AME Church. A Golden Soror of 55 years in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, she was among those responsible for the establishment of an AKA chapter at the University of South Carolina.
Clarence “Dean” Bratton died Dec. 23 at age 72. He was retired from the S.C. State Board of Financial Institutions-Consumer Finance Division.
• Kathy Hickman Brown died Nov. 25 at age 60. She was a painter who was involved with the EBCO Studios group of local artists for a number of years. The USC graduate served as a counselor at Epworth Children’s Home and as a cataloguer at the Garners Ferry Road branch of the Richland Library. She also worked at several art galleries and played roles with both Workshop and Trustus theaters.
• Retired Lt. Col. William Harvey Carson, who died Nov. 11 at age 84, had a special significance in my life. His wife, Fannie, was a great inspiration to me in elementary school; she would take me to the side almost daily and encourage me, letting me know that I was as smart and capable as any other kid in the school. When I got to A.C. Flora High School, I didn’t know Mr. Carson, who taught mechanical drawing. I never took a class under him, yet he too constantly encouraged me to apply myself in school and even offered to help me apply to West Point if I had a desire. He worked for many years in Richland District 1, from which he retired, teaching at Booker T. Washington, A.C. Flora and Columbia high schools.
These and the many other family members, friends and neighbors who have left this life over the past few months certainly will be missed. We must be grateful to have had the time we did with them.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.