Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Good Man

His full name was Thomas William Ludlow Ashley, but to the people of Toledo and a lot of other cities around Ohio and America, he was simply “Lud.” He was one of those people who make you understand why people dedicate their lives to public service and remind you of those who see serving in Congress as a badge of honor, not a ticket to fame and fortune.

The former Democratic Congressman died Tuesday in his home in Leland, Michigan.

He cut a large figure on national and local stages, a genial good companion with a ready wit, at times colorful, but also a thoughtful and a skilled legislator capable of reconciling diverse interests to produce bills that would win floor approval.


On Capitol Hill, he was “Mr. Housing” and shepherded America’s public-housing programs through Congress in the 1960s and 1970s — including more than $15 million in public housing units across Lucas County.

Through his efforts, Toledo was one of the first 30 cities to have food stamps distributed to the poor.

With more than $11 million he secured, the Port of Toledo was dredged and improved, creating one of the nation’s leading ports.

Lud came from a prominent political family in Toledo, going back to his great-grandfather James M. Ashley, who helped craft the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. Lud was a liberal and a politician in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy; a blue blood who worked hard for the blue collar workers on Indiana Avenue as well as the country club set on River Road. He never lost his drive to improve the lot of everyone in his district, and while he was a strong and dedicated campaigner, he never delved into the bloody politics, and the people of the Ninth District elected him again and again through good times and bad until 1980 when he was upset by Republican Ed Weber in the Reagan landslide. (Mr. Weber served one term before being beaten by Marcy Kaptur, who is still in office.)

I knew Lud personally. His family and mine have been friends since we moved to Toledo in 1957; I went to school with his nieces and nephews, and his sister-in-law was my high school French teacher. We didn’t live in his district, but I am sure it was him who got my family the White House and Capitol Hill guest passes on our trip to Washington in 1965. In 1972 when I went to Washington with the University of Miami’s drama department for the American College Theatre Festival and got a tour of the Capitol, I slipped away and dropped in unannounced at Lud’s office. Not only was he there to greet me, he took me into his office and we talked about school, politics and theatre. It meant a great deal to me then, and it still does. Here was a man who loved politics, loved his country, loved his hometown, and cared about people to the point that he’d stop for a visit from a kid who wasn’t even a constituent.

I’d like to know what Lud thought about the politics of today. I’m pretty sure he didn’t care for it; not because of the partisanship or even the volume, but because it took the focus away from the thing that really mattered: getting things done for the people who sent him to work.