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Community saddened at news of Grenfell principalís death

By Pamela Gill

Leader, mentor, professor, colleague and friend – Dr. John Ashton was many things during his 26 years at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Grenfell College, the Corner Brook campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland, suffered a great loss with the passing of Dr. Ashton on Sept. 20.

“Dr. Ashton was a passionate and dedicated educator and administrator,” said Dr. Eddy Campbell, acting president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University. “His legacy will be one of conviction and belief in the transformative power of education. He will be missed at Memorial University.”

Dr. Ashton was appointed principal of Grenfell College on July 1, 2004, and during his short tenure made significant progress in fostering international partnerships, developing undergraduate programming, building Grenfell’s research agenda, and perhaps most notably, providing leadership and guidance in the pursuit of greater autonomy and a new governance structure for the Memorial’s west coast campus.

“John believed that Grenfell was a significant force in the western region’s economy, and made great strides in promoting higher education and research activities as being key to the region’s socioeconomic well-being,” said Dr. Holly Pike, acting principal, Grenfell College. “He was instrumental in the development of our newest programs – business administration, tourism studies and sustainable resource management, and these programs reflect his view that Grenfell College should offer relevant programming to the students who will be our future leaders.

“John’s leadership and support enhanced the profile of Grenfell College regionally, nationally and internationally. We will miss him very much.”

Dr. Ashton was a long-standing faculty member and professor of folklore at Grenfell College, having arrived in Corner Brook in 1982. He served as head of the Division of Social Sciences at the college. He held a BA (honours) from the London School of Economics (1974), an MA (folklife studies) from the University of Leeds (1975) and a PhD (folklore) from Memorial University (1985).

A noted folklore scholar and prize-winning writer, his published work has appeared in books and scholarly journals across Canada, the United States and Great Britain. Dr. Ashton gained international recognition in an academic capacity long before taking up the highly publicized administrative duties associated with his time as principal. And as a teacher, his courses were always heavily subscribed. He therefore excelled as an all-round member of the Grenfell community.

“John had two extraordinary qualities. He had vision and he had courage, both in spades,” said Dr. Adrian Fowler, former principal of Grenfell College and current member of the Grenfell’s English faculty. “Several times in the last few years he made the point that the first generation of faculty and staff at Grenfell, who had built the institution, were in the course of passing on the torch to a new generation. The condition he so fiercely sought in order to enable this transition to be successful was increased autonomy for Grenfell. He gave his heart and soul to this cause because he believed in the power of universities to transform the communities in which they reside and he cared passionately about the future of this place after he was gone. His work and his life are an inspiration to those who remain.”

Dr. Wade Bowers, associate vice-principal, research, regarded Dr. Ashton’s vision and leadership as pivotal to not only the institution, but to all those around him.

“John provided Grenfell with a strong and distinctive voice and a clear path to the future – he was inspirational both as a friend and as a colleague,” said Dr. Bowers.