John Malcolm Ashley Jr., 77, farmer, Maryland delegate


John Malcolm Ashley Jr., a former Queen Anne's County commissioner and Democratic member of the House of Delegates, died Monday of lung and heart disease. He was 77.

Mr. Ashley wanted to spend his last days at home on the Eastern Shore, not in a hospital bed. As he was being transported by ambulance from Washington Hospital Center to Centreville, he died on the Eastern Shore side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. His two sons were with him.

Mr. Ashley, known as Jack, was born in Easton and grew up helping his father with the family's propane business, Ashley Gas Co.

During World War II, with many of the community's young men serving abroad, Mr. Ashley got his driver's license at age 14 so that he could help his father deliver gas, his son said.

"You knew where Jack stood, and Jack was a very hard worker his entire life," said Chuck Powers, director of the Queen Anne's County Free Library and a longtime political supporter.

Mr. Ashley graduated from Centreville High School in 1947 and continued to work for the propane business.

He also served nine years in the 29th Infantry Division of the Maryland National Guard, leaving with a rank of sergeant first class, according to his son, John Ashley III of Centreville.

The family sold the propane business when Mr. Ashley's father died. Mr. Ashley became a farmer, working roughly 5,000 acres of grain across the county, his son said. In 1959, Mr. Ashley also started Ashley Brothers Real Estate Co., now Prudential Premier Properties.

In 1970, he ran for county commissioner and served two terms before winning a seat in the House of Delegates, where he was appointed to the Appropriations Committee.

His son said his father never took campaign contributions and paid for his own campaigns.

"He didn't want to owe anybody anything," the younger Mr. Ashley said. "He didn't want to owe any favors to anyone."

Mr. Powers said Mr. Ashley was outgoing and could work a room. "You really didn't have to get to know Jack, he got to know you," he said. "He was straightforward in his demeanor; that never really changed."

An avid boater and fisherman, Mr. Ashley was a member of the Maryland Watermen's Association, Kent Island Yacht Club and Chester River Yacht & Country Club, among others. He was also a member of Moose Lodge 831.

"He let most of the fish go," his son said. "He just liked to go out on the water."

Funeral services were held Friday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Centreville.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Philip Anthony Ashley of Centreville; a sister, Mary A. Long of Centreville; a brother, Sydney G. Ashley of Centreville; four stepchildren, Patricia Bittner, Sally Parks and Thomas Callahan, all of Centreville, and David Callahan of Easton; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Ashley was predeceased by his wives, Frances Anthony Ashley, who also served as a Queen Anne's County commissioner, and Mary Flynn Ashley.

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