A longtime Cobb County educator who is called an icon by many in the Campbell High School and Smyrna communities will be laid to rest this morning. Robert Ash, 90, died Monday of cardiac arrest.
His funeral will be at 11 a.m. at Smyrna First Baptist Church, where Ash was a member, followed by a graveside ceremony at Cheatham Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Marietta.
“He was a pretty awesome man and will be sorely missed by the community and his family,” said Karen Frost, Ash’s daughter and Tritt Elementary principal. “He was bigger than life.” Born Dec. 6, 1921, in Telfair County, Ash chose to become an educator after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
His first job was at Lawrenceville High School in Gwinnett County. He came to Cobb in 1947 to teach and coach basketball and baseball at Fitzhugh Lee and Campbell high schools until 1954.
He was away from Cobb for 11 years serving as principal at Monroe Area High School south of Atlanta, but returned as Campbell’s principal in 1965.
He was the school leader for 22 years before retiring in 1987, when he was named “Principal of the Year” by the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders.
Frost couldn’t recall her father ever saying what kept him in education for so long, but she remembered him saying that being a teacher is all about the kids and to never lose sight of that.
“He also said to always be supportive of your teachers and staff and let them know how much they mean,” said the educator of 27 years. “Based on what I heard from those who worked with him, that’s what he did.”
Frost said she’s received several emails from people who worked with her dad.
“People have said that he always shared his guidance, wisdom and friendship with them,” she said.
“Another said they remembered him telling them to be sure to laugh every day. Also, he set high standards and led by examples and made a lot of contributions to the young people in our community.”
Ash’s son, former Cobb Public Service Agency Director Bob Ash Jr., said his father was a “great dad.”
“I’ve always been proud to be his son,” he said. “He was a pretty strong disciplinarian, not just at home but in the schools as well, but he was very fair. He has grandchildren and great grandchildren and thoroughly enjoyed being with all of us.”
Retired educator Cathy Cochran of Smyrna said Ash shaped her career.
“He gave me all the chances in education, and I attribute my success to him,” said Cochran, who began teaching in 1974 at Campbell with Ash.
“He hired me almost straight out of college … (and) promoted me to assistant principal and I worked with him for six years,” she said. “He was my guiding light. My husband says he was my Georgia daddy, because I’m originally from Tennessee.” Cochran said Ash told her “put students first, don’t put anything in writing you don’t mean, and you have to have a belly laugh every one in awhile.”
“He had such a fabulous sense of humor,” she said.
Area Assistant Superintendent Dale Gaddis, who represents Campbell, remembers Ash as a “legend of his own.”
“Everyone who’s been in Smyrna for some length of time has wonderful things to say about a wonderful man,” he said. “I never worked with him, but it was hard not to know Mr. Ash.”
Gaddis believes Ash was a “pacesetter” in getting the community involved in its schools.
“That’s how he and his assistant principal kind of approached things. Everybody in the community knew them,” he said. “He was omnipresent.”
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon was one of Ash’s students his first year as principal at Campbell in 1965, when Cobb integrated.
“In the ’60s, that was a pretty tense time, but we never had the first issue,” he said. “Folks knew he wasn’t going to tolerate anything.” Later in life, while serving as mayor, Bacon continued to hear from his former principal, specifically when the city was doing upgrades to sidewalks or curbs.
“If they didn’t put the landscape exactly back the way it should be, he’d call me or when he ran into me would tell me about it,” Bacon said. “He was a good guy, just a classy kind of guy that was very professional and a strong person, but soft inside.”
Ash was active in his church, and every Tuesday attended a men’s prayer group with friends like Harold Smith, who runs the history museum in town.
Smith first met Ash in 1967 while videotaping Campbell football games to air on Saturday mornings.
“Bob was principal at the time, and we had a hard time convincing him that it wouldn’t hurt his business for the football games,” he said. “That began the relationship.”
Their friendship continued over the next 45 years as they worked in the community, served on the Smyrna Historical Society and attended weekly prayer meetings together. “He had such a fantastic memory. They would mention somebody that needed prayer and he’d remember having their kids, the year they graduated,” he said.
“He brought so much to the group.” Ash is survived by two children, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, Carolyn Lord Ash, died in 2011.