Dr. Ashley’s work touched the lives of thousands
Country doctors have always been beloved figures. Practicing medicine from small offices in small towns, they are healers, neighbors, confidants, and friends to their many patients.
So, what kind of person does it take to be a country doctor? Many would say it takes a person like Dr. Bruce Ashley, whose passing last week at the age of 69 stunned local residents and those in the medical community who worked with the him over the past four decades. He was not only a “country doctor”, but also a traveler, sailor, runner, pilot, horseman, hunter, mountain man, poet, musician, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, friend, and according to his beloved wife, Sharon, a common man and an every day hero to her and so many others.
When Dr. Ashley arrived in Adams County 40 years ago from his hometown of Louisville, Ky., he was a young man, dedicated to his work, and devoted to his patients. “He fell in love with Adams County,” said Sharon, his wife of 37 years. “His dream was to serve a community that was in a very rural area that really had a need for a family practice doctor.”
He began his career in Adams County at the ABCAP Clinic at Panhandle before moving on to the Celebration of Health Clinic in Peebles. He served as the Adams County Health Commissioner, worked in the emergency departments at Portsmouth and Adams County Hospitals before becoming a full-time ER physician and Director at the Adams County Regional Medical Center.
Ashley married a local girl, Sharon Copas McCarty in 1979 and they settled on a farm near Blue Creek where they raised their four children Jason, Noah, Jade and RoShanda.
Sharon said her that Ashley loved the outdoors. “His parents were into scouting, and Bruce achieved Eagle Scout status, he had a real love for backpacking, canoeing, and camping, and a great respect for all nature’s creatures.”
His love for the outdoors led to his becoming a member of the American Mountain Men (AMM) with whom he camped and rode horses in pre-1840’s gear and dress. He also hosted an annual winter camp on his farm for the Ohio Brigade of the AMM.
Debbie Louderback Ryan who worked with Ashley for several years said, “He made a deep impression on so many people. His passion for healing was unsurpassed, he has left us with a beautiful legacy.”
Through his family practice and in his role as Director and physician for the ACRMC Emergency Department, Dr. Ashley touched the lives of thousands of people. The flag at ACRMC was lowered to half mast in his honor last week, and a hospital spokesperson said, “The medical center and everyone in our service area will feel the effects of this loss. On behalf of our employee staff who worked with him daily, the Medical Staff members who relied on his leadership, and the Board of Trustees who sought his wisdom, we all extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family.”
Roland D. Gee, Chief Executive Officer of ACRMC said of Ashley, “Bruce was a very special person in my life as he was the first physician I met when I arrived at ACRMC. He was all of those things I had always looked for in a physician. He was kind, considerate of others and compassionate in his professional care. Never did I hear anyone say anything negative about him. He was the pillar that everyone at ACRMC depended on. His absence will affect everyone that he worked with.”
Gee said that he and Ashley had become good friends. “Our relationship was much more than just physician and hospital administrator. We talked often about fishing, snakes, guns, our families and much more. He was very knowledgeable about so many things and could always keep my attention with his professional accomplishments and stories about what he had done in his life. Personally his absence in my work at the Medical Center will be changed significantly as he was the one physician I could turn to for guidance and advice. He was a true gentleman.”
Tammy Akers at ACRMC worked with Dr. Ashley in the ER. “Every morning as I pulled in to the parking lot and saw Dr. Ashley’s vehicle I knew it was going to be an interesting day,” Akers said. “He would always great me with a ‘good morning’ and a story about an interesting case or patient he cared for in the past, or it might be one of the many ‘close calls’ he had with a cow, snake, or on a hiking trip. I never knew what topic we would talk about, I just always looked forward to it.”
Dr. Ashley had planned to retire in 2017. A statement released by the hospital expressed regret that the opportunity to formally thank him for his years of service was lost. “Our ability to properly acknowledge and thank him for his life-long service is no longer possible, but the memories we all have will continue to be felt among his friends and colleagues in the halls and in every department at the Adams County Regional Medical Center.”
“We were planning to travel and spend quality time with our children after Bruce retired,” Sharon Ashley said. “This has been such a devastating shock for all of us, but Bruce always said he didn’t want a long drawn-out death like his father who died at 50 from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He said ‘I want to go quickly and I’m hoping that’s how God takes me,’ and that’s exactly what happened,” she said, adding “We just didn’t plan on it happening so soon, Bruce enjoyed living and he lived life to the fullest.”