Today my Dad would have been 100

My Dad, Jay (John Benjamin) Ashbrook, would have been 100 today.  He died in October 2002 aged 86.

He was born on 26 July 1916 in Madison, Wisconsin, of Arthur Elliott Ashbrook and Katherine Austin (after whom I was named) and went to the University of Wisconsin.

Dad's graduation certificate

He was, he said, directly descended from one of Morgan’s Raiders, who attacked the northern states during the American Civil War: his father came from Kentucky and his mother from Arkansas, so they were southerners.  His older sister Marcie married Frank Woy and moved to Butte, Montana, and he often visited them; he was fond of her children, Frankie (who still keeps in close touch with us) and Sally.

Dad met Mum during the war; his friends from Madison, Mum’s aunt Jessie and her daughter Jane, wrote to Mum to say he was coming over with the US army, but he telephoned her before she got the letter so she was no doubt rather taken aback.  She was then a land girl at Northiam in East Sussex, and made the trip to London to meet him.

M&D 50th wedding anniv 1

Mum and Dad at their 50th wedding anniversary party, September 1998

They married in 1948 and Dad stayed in England.  They lived at first in London and then bought Wrango, in Denham Village, south Bucks, in 1952.  Mum (aged 99) still lives there though it is a little large for her now.  My sister Sue was born in London but by the time I was born they lived at Wrango.  At first Dad was selling food to the US bases over here, then he moved into publishing.

1954 Sue and Dad

Dad and Sue at Wrango, 1954

We had a happy upbringing in Denham.  My early memories of Dad are that he was immensely kind, generous and good-natured.  We were always pleased when he ran our baths because he let us have long, deep ones.  He invented bedtime stories for us and would willingly get up at crack of dawn to take me bird watching at the gravel pits.  When we went to the New York in 1962 he said he would buy me a diamond tiara.  It was a joke but I held him to it and so he bought me a two-dollar one from Bloomingdale’s—which was fine by me.

Connie and Belinda
He loved cars and Connie the Continental Bentley was his joy (and her predecessor, Belinda, whom I never knew).



Mum and Dad shared a love of dogs which has been passed down the family.  The earliest I remember was Elmer, a characterful Boston Bull terrier who adored Dad, but we had a succession of dachshunds too.

Dad and Elmer

Dad and Elmer at Wrango

Dad was a party-lover and was always good company.  He had a stock of jokes and sayings—‘One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian’ for instance.  Sometimes they were a bit obscure: when our dachshund was limping he said ‘poor Horace is St Albans’ (Verulam, ie very lame).  He liked to play with words and come up with funny phrases such as ‘one swell foop’ (one fell swoop).

Sue followed Dad to the University of Wisconsin and in 1973 married Fritz Casselman. Dad was delighted when they produced two grandsons for him, Ben and Peter, with whom he could share his love of boyish things: cars, the traction engine and making peanut brittle (a sticky toffee confection—don’t mention the mess!).

At Jamie Dunsterville's wedding

Dad enjoying a party

Dad was proficient at painting and later etching.  For a time he rented a studio at the top of a tall London building with no lift, and it was a real test for some of his portlier friends to visit him.  Later he escaped to the top floor at Wrango and even the basement.  I liked his landscapes, especially those he painted in the Rockies (which he loved), and was sorry he didn’t do more of them.


The Wind River range in the Rockies, Wyoming

He painted a good self-portrait too.


And his friend from the Langham Club, Cliff Hatts, did an even better portrait.

Dad pastel by Cliff Hatt 1994

Pastel of Dad by Cliff Hatts, 1994

When Dad died, Mum organised a seat in his memory on the village green at Denham.  He had been a co-trustee of the green with Hugh Stewart, another long-standing Denham resident and good friend.  The green had been given to the village in 1952 by Reverend Herbert Ward to save it from development.  Dad and Hugh registered the green as a charity in 1992 and set up the Friends of the Village Green to raise funds to maintain it.  We think of Dad whenever we pass the green.


Mum, Sue, Ben and Peter on Dad’s bench on Denham village green, on Mum’s 90th birthday, 31 March 2007.

It is sad that Dad did not live to see his two grandsons married, Ben to Erin in 2011 and Peter to Erica in 2015.  He would have been proud of them all and would have enjoyed their excellent wedding parties.

We all miss you Dad.

Dad 80th birthday

Eightieth birthday, 80 candles

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Art, Memories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Today my Dad would have been 100

  1. George Stride says:

    What a lovely tribute to your Dad.

  2. Hazel Perham says:

    A wonderful tribute to your Dad Kate, I loved reading every word.

  3. Karla Mckechnie says:

    I’ve just read that twice!
    What lovely words from a loving daughter x

  4. Frank V. Woy says:

    A magnificent tribute to your dad, my lifelong friend, uncle and mentor, on this his centennial.

  5. Ruth B. says:

    Jane’s daughter Ruth: I remember the excitement when “Margaret and Jay are coming to visit us” (in Pennsylvania) was the word…and his wordplay, might even have heard about the medes and Persians! When someone called from GB, my mother would immediately slip into her (fake?)English accent!

  6. Jilly Dunsterville says:

    Fond memories of Jay – what a lovely tribute

    Simon and Jilly Dunsterville

  7. Mark Shrimpton says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your story today whilst sitting in the back garden on Wrango Hall. I am here filming a TV program so during the downtime I decided to google the history of the hall and came across your story.

  8. Jo Spratley says:

    So enjoyed the tribute to your Dad – he sounds a truly lovely man. Jo

  9. Nick says:

    Dear Kate

    Your memoir is so full of warmth, happiness and bursting with love, thank you for your words in this time of COVID. I passed by Wrango on Sunday (20th Sept 2020) and the grand old place has just recently been sold and it looks like the new owners are busy getting it ready for their new life there.

    How lucky they are and I hope they read this page, because your story evokes a great feeling of a wonderful home and of a place where love and a wonderful experience of life happens. Your father and mother, of course the vital ingredients, they both created something magical, beyond making a wonderful home.

    • Dear Nick
      Thank you for your lovely comment and for following my blog. We sold Wrango end Jan and it will provide a lovely home for the buyers. Have we met?

      • Nick says:

        Dear Kate

        It was my first time ever in Denham village. I visited probably because of the good work your organisation, , does in keeping access to public rights of way, open to walkers&ramblers like me. My mind met you in your story, but nowhere else 🙂


      • I think I may know who you are but as this is public I won’t take it beyond asking if you are an OSS member.

      • Nick says:

        Dear Kate

        Your writing has brought me to become known to you. I am not a member of any organisation at all.
        The piece you wrote, ‘Today my Dad would have been 100’ , is an enchanting glimpse into a world which brings a sense of wonder to me and perhaps others. Its like a window to a bygone world and some of us delight in taking a look through, me especially. Thank you for your writing and also your family photos, you really have shared a great love on here. It shines a way forward, makes the future seem brighter and full of possibilities. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s