Ashley, thanks for suiting me -
When you borrow a Santa Claus suit from someone, you have a pretty good idea that person likes making people happy. Why else would one own a Santa Claus suit?
Ashley Stephenson was one of those people who enjoyed seeing smiles on people’s faces, especially when he put those smiles there. I came to know, respect and admire Ashley before I borrowed the red-and-white suit several years ago.
I knew Ashley as someone with a keen insight into politics. He was one of the rare people with which I could discuss politics and enjoy it. I don’t care much for politics, but when Ashley talked politics, I would listen. I also knew Ashley because of his affiliation with WITN-TV. I’ve seen Ashley turn on that salesman’s charm, with which he could persuade a headshrinker in the Amazon jungle to advertise his services during WITN’s evening news.
Ashley’s voice can be heard on many programs airing on Washington’s public education/government channel (channel 9) on the local Suddenlink cable network. Ashley did more than his part when it came to promoting Washington and Beaufort County. To me, he will always be the voice that urges people to visit Washington’s waterfront, the Turnage Theater, the Summer Festival, the North Carolina Estuarium and other area attractions and events.
I also knew Ashley as a man who loved Paula, his wife, and Rocky, his son. That love was evident in many ways, including when he was with them during Sunday mornings at First Baptist Church in Washington.
Several weeks ago, I attended a meeting at which Ashley talked with the Washington City Council, Mayor Archie Jennings and other city officials about how the city could better market itself. Of course, Ashley was trying to sell advertising and other media services to the city. That was his job. But Ashley also was selling the city — and his belief in its potential.
Ashley believed Washington could become better. He wanted it to become better because it was his community, his family’s community. By improving the city, Ashley knew that his family and other families would benefit from that improvement. Improvement would bring more opportunities, which could attract even more opportunities, Ashley believed.
Ashley was one of the few people with whom I could sit and talk with for hours. Sharing media connections, Ashley and I had plenty of “war stories” to share with each other or remind each other about.
I recall when I showed up at his home several years ago to borrow his Santa Claus suit. I had been asked to fill in for him at a function where Ol’ St. Nick was to appear. Ashley’s health problems prohibited him from attending that function.
Ashley gave me some good advice that evening. Portraying Santa Claus isn’t so much about filling out the red-and-white suit, he said, but it’s more about becoming the spirit of Christmas. Ashley taught me that a really good “Ho, ho, ho” and a reverberating “Merry Christmas” was more important than the fake beard fitting just right.
Ashley, you provided me with more than just a Santa Claus suit that evening — you provided me with a different way to look at life. You gave me an early Christmas gift I will never forget nor stop using.
Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. Thanks to Brownie Futrell and the Washington Daily News for granting us permission to share this column with you.