On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in March, hundreds of people gathered at the First Baptist Church in Washington. It wasn’t for a wedding or a sermon, but a celebration of life. It was a memorial of someone who was loved by an entire community. On Monday March 22nd, Ashley Stephenson passed away. He was a father, a husband, a son, a brother an uncle, and a friend. He was 46 years old.
Ashley was the type of person who people couldn’t help but like. I knew him for five years since the day I started at WITN, and I knew he was selfless. But I didn’t know the extent of his kindness until he was gone, and I heard the stories of others who knew him. There are very few people in this world that are described as such and I’m lucky to say I knew one of them.
Ashley was my friend…my very good friend. We were an odd sort to be hanging out, considering I’m a thin 20-something blonde chick and he was an overweight 40-something dude. But there was an unspoken bond between us as friends and I treasured it. I couldn’t pass the man in the hall at work without giving him a big bear hug. He received gastric-bypass surgery last year and the weight was melting away. A few days before he died, I gave him a giant hug and said, “I can put my arms around you now – stop getting so skinny.” He laughed. I said “Love ya” and walked away. I’m glad I told him how much he meant to me that day, because I had no idea it would be the last time I would see his smiling face.
As I walked into the First Baptist Church last Wednesday with my friends and husband, I was amazed at the amount of people present. I had a feeling it would be packed because I knew how many hearts Ash touched. We used to go to lunch in Washington and at least six people I had never seen before would walk up to him and say Hi….every time. It was incredible, and I thought I was so lucky to have lunch with someone so popular.
His memorial service began at 2pm. I had never been to a funeral before so I didn’t know what to expect. It went by quickly as the Church Heads shared their favorite memories, and hymns were sung. Tears flowed and everyone prayed. It was sad, but nice. After the service, the family received condolences from the guests.
I knew I had to give Ashley’s wife, Paula, a hug. I adore Paula, always have. I love how much Ashley loved her. He thoroughly enjoyed sharing stories on how they met and fell in love, what happened on their wedding day, and where they spent their honeymoon. He kept a Glamour Shot of her in his office and made sure everyone saw how pretty she was. I saw Paula standing there in the receiving room with such sorrow in her face. The moment our eyes met, they overflowed with sadness. We hugged.
I didn’t see Rocky at the church, Ashley’s 5 year-old son. Rocky has Autism. I remember the day Ash told me about the diagnosis. He wrote a blog on WITN entitled “I Just Found Out My Son Has Superpowers...” You can read it HERE
. Autism became a passion of Ashley’s. He knew the trail ahead would be difficult, but he was prepared, and helped his son in any way he could. May 1st, 2010, there will be an Autism walk in Greenville. A team has been organized to honor Rocky and remember Ashley. Click HERE
to join Team Stephenson. My husband and I plan to walk with the team this year.
I left the memorial with a sense of peace. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s. What a great day to live… and breathe in the fresh air. Ash had a great life. He lived every moment and was grateful for the days he was given. He was taken far too soon, but I don’t think he had any regrets, at least not from the way he talked about his life. Ash might not physically be here anymore for bear hugs, but if I close my eyes tight and think about him, there’s an overwhelming feeling of serenity that’s hard to explain. I think it’s him telling me he’s ok.
I asked some people who knew Ashley to share words that best explained him. As you read them below, pause a second to reflect on each one. Then you might get a glimpse of what made this memorable man so special to so many.
Loving – Devoted – Gentleman – Connected – Jovial – Genuine – Grateful – Comical – Conversational – Kind – Generous – Caring – Inspiring – Awesome – Brilliant – Cheerful – Groundbreaking – Warm – Tenacious – Complimentary – Mr. Sassafrass – Leader – Memorable – Charismatic – Friendly – Good-Natured – Comforting – Selfless – Chivalrous – Creative – Brother – Father – Husband – Soulmate – Friend