Former Sheriff Terry Ashe surfaced Tuesday at the Lebanon Rotary Club's lunch meeting, speaking in public for the first time since he left his position as Wilson County's sheriff to become the executive director of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association. He was the county sheriff for 30 years.
Ashe discussed his recently released autobiography, "Ashes of Bluebird," which details his life from his boyhood on a farm in the Tuckers Cross Road community, to his experiences as a decorated soldier in Vietnam and his long tenure as county sheriff.
Rotary Club President-elect Scotty Ricketts introduced the sheriff.
"My children don't know another sheriff in Wilson County," Ricketts said. "I'm very excited about Sheriff Ashe being with us."
Ashe began by saying he would "not get emotional" about what he was saying.
"I've tried to live my life for the last 20 years by Philippians chapter 2, verses 3 and 4, which are about service," he said.
He said when he thought about becoming a U.S. Marshall in 1994, his minister decided to change the lesson in church one Sunday to Philippians chapter 2, verses 3 and 4.
"You could have knocked me out of my chair," Ashe said.
Ashe said he recently gave a copy of his book to his minister.
"I asked him if he had a copy of my book," Ashe said. "He asked me if I had a copy of his book - the Bible."
He also said he signed a contract in Hollywood to make his life story into a movie. Ashe said the book has sold out three times on Amazon and four times at Barnes and Noble. He said a store in North Carolina is selling copies for $81 a copy.
Ashe now has a "new badge and authority" in his position with the sheriff's association, but he still hasn't completely adjusted to a life that doesn't include being the sheriff of Wilson County.
"I miss my kids, but I'll do just fine," Ashe said. "I'm taking a sabbatical from politics for now."
He then moved on to talk about his book with some people expressing the opinion he might have been a bit too honest with his life story.
"This book has taken on a life of its own," Ashe told the audience. "I've had several people come up to me and ask, 'What did you put that in there for?'"
He explained the book's cover, which shows him in 1983 standing over a suspect wielding a shotgun. Ashe said the photo was taken when his department was raiding a dog-fighting operation in the county.
Ashe also said his time as sheriff has left him with more than a few enemies, generally people he put in prison. He said he was recently at a local department store when he was approached by two men. One of the men told Ashe his family is so excited he wasn't sheriff anymore. He promised he would mail the newspaper article about Ashe's resignation to his brother in prison, where Ashe put him.
"He said 'We're going to throw the biggest party; my brother will be out in six months.' I told him, 'I haven't moved so I won't be hard to find,'" Ashe said.
"I haven't seen any of that $81 yet," he said with a laugh before taking questions from the audience.
One Rotarian asked what his day-to-day life was like now.
Ashe said his work with the Sheriff's Association keeps him busy training sheriffs from around the state, and that he is a member of a dozen coalitions.
"A big part of the job is counseling police officers who have been through a traumatic situation," he said. "Some officers are soldiers coming back from combat who go back on duty right away."
Another man asked whether the details of Ashe's Vietnam experiences are in the book. He said the book contains three stories from those years.
"My first day in Vietnam, my second day in Vietnam and June 6, 1968," Ashe said, noting that the June 6 story was about the day he was the sole survivor of his company during an ambush.
He also said the chapter in the book included visiting Arizona years after the war to meet the family of one man he fought beside in Vietnam.
"I was adopted by the Navajo Nation," he said. "It's an unusual story, but it's time to tell it."
Another Rotarian asked about the three times Ashe had been struck by lighting, which are detailed in the book. While another commented that he recommends the book. A woman in the audience said the style of the book is very reader friendly.
"It's like sitting down with Terry and having him tell these stories to you," she said.
Ashe told the audience he's right where he wants to be.
"I couldn't be any place I love better than Lebanon, Tenn." he said.
The Rotarians gave Ashe a standing ovation and lined up to buy copies of the book signed by Ashe.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.