When a legend leaves the stage of public life, it takes a while for the people around them to absorb their departure. That was the case as friends, family and colleagues of former Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe came out to the East/West Building on the fairground Monday night to honor the lawman on the day proclaimed "Terry Ashe Appreciation Day" in the city and county.
Chamber President Sue Vanatta help make the day and the event a reality. She was near the door greeting people coming in to give their respects to Ashe. She was with Ginny Winfree who has known Ashe since back in the day.
"We go a long way back," Winfree said. "It's been 40 years. Terry Ashe has always been a great guy and fun to be around."
State Rep. Mark Pody was on hand to present Ashe with a proclamation from the state for his outstanding service. Speaking before the ceremony, Pody had high praise for Ashe.
"I think he has been one of the leaders bringing Wilson County to a position of high employment and strength. We wouldn't be here without the protection he's given us," Pody said.
John Jewell, director of the Wilson Emergency Management Agency has known Ashe since they were small boys.
"I've known him since we were 11 or 12 years old," Jewell said. "He's a friend I trust."
Jan Jewell said the pair have known one another since they played with toy cars under church pews while Jewell's father preached a sermon.
The official ceremony kicked off with the new Sheriff Robert Bryan noting everyone was there to honor a "special man."
"He's a close friend to me," Bryan said. "He's a second father to me. He's served the county well, he's given his life for Wilson County."
Then Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings, flanked by Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead, read the joint proclamation by the cities of Watertown, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet honoring the sheriff and his service.
"It's pretty good," Jennings said before he began reading the official proclamation. "I know because I wrote it."
With that he proceeded to read the proclamation that listed many of Ashe's accomplishments and awards, including his service in Vietnam for which he was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and too many other accolades to mention. At one point Jennings ran out of breath.
"I'm not done, I'm just taking a breath," Jennings assured the crowd.
He then went on to mention the highlights of Ashe's career in law enforcement, including several awards for outstanding service including being named Outstanding Tennessean in 1990. When he finished the impressive highlights of Ashe's career the crowd rose for one of several standing ovations.
Pody and Rep. Linda Elam then praised Ashe.
"I've known Sheriff Ashe for 15 years," Elam said. "There was every reason we would not work well together - I'm from Mt. Juliet he's from Lebanon, he's a sheriff and I'm a lawyer, but I had a great working relationship with this man. He was gracious with his time and he shared his wisdom with me."
Bryan then took the podium to introduce Ashe.
"This is well deserved," Bryant said. "He's a great man. You can see your friends here and they all love you. I love you."
Ashe said he was thrilled to watch hundreds of people stop in for the event.
"How cool is it to have a day named after you?" Ashe asked the crowd. "I though Sue (Vanatta) was getting ready to pay me back."
From the audience Vanatta said, "It's coming."
Ashe thanked the mayors and the crowd for coming out on a cold night to honor him.
"I've spent the last 30 years trying to make Wilson County a good place to live and raise a family, Ashe said."
He noted that he had served the county on drug busts on the coldest nights and waited for murders during the hottest summers.
"I've come home at night and wondered if anybody really cared," Ashe said. "I know you care."
Ashe said the fundamental problem in government at every level is that elected officials don't have the ability to treat everybody the same, and do the right thing for everybody.
He said that now that he heads the Tennessee Sheriff's Association he wants to make sure the state produces the "best sheriffs." He also noted that he is happy that Bryan has taken his place.
"I know the sheriff's department is in good hand," Ashe said.
Looking out over the crowd of elected officials past and present, and his friends and family, Ashe got chocked up and battled back tears.
"It may be the start of winter, but for me it's the beginning of spring," he said. "I won't be going into that good night. I've lead a purpose driven life and I've been protected by God. I won't be gone, I'll be around."
With that, the crowd gave another standing ovation and a people lined up to speak to Ashe and thank him for a job well done.
Ashe's daughter, Jesse looked on with pride as her father was honored.
"I'm very proud of him," she said. "He served well."
Both Lebanon's mayoral candidates attended the event.
"I think it's phenomenal," said Bob O'Brien. "He's a legend in his own time. I know that a cliché, but in this case it's also true.
Craighead said he's worked well with Ashe.
"Since I've been mayor he's always been generous with his time and advice," Craighead said. "A lot of things I've tried to do he made easier because I could go to him and discuss it. I appreciate his leadership and his friendship."
District Attorney Tommy Thompson said the Wilson County Sheriff's Department has come along way since Ashe first became sheriff.
"It's a whole different world," Thompson said. "He's built a department that will move on and keep running without him. He built it with his leadership and charisma. I've been able to depend on him."
Wayne Driver, who stood in line to speak to Ashe and give him a hug, perhaps said it best.
"I've known him a long time. He's a good man."
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org