City workers, officials honor longtime Mayor Walter Ash

Five-term mayor remembered as a humble servant with a sense of history
By Ethan Andrews | Nov 24, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Former Mayor Walter Ash, right, returns as a regular citizen to the City Council chambers where he presided for the last decade. City officials and workers paid tribute Nov. 21 to the longtime civic leader.

Belfast — Over the past decade, giving Walter Ash the key to the city would have been a matter of convenience. The five-term mayor, who lost his bid for a sixth term earlier this month, made daily trips to City Hall to stay in the know.

On Nov. 21, in the council chambers where he presided for a decade, city staff and elected officials crowded in to remember his service, presenting him finally with the honorary key to the city.

Councilors took turns recounting how they came to know Ash and paying tribute to his work for the city. Collectively, they painted a picture of Ash as a public servant who kept one foot anchored in the past but remained open to change at a time when the city did a lot of changing.

Ash has served in city or state government for more than 30 years, starting in the 1980s as president of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, when the city owned the rail line. He served on the City Council from 1992 to 2003 and followed that with a single term in the state Legislature before first running for mayor in 2007. He held that post until this year when he was defeated by political newcomer Samantha Paradis.

Speaking in the past about the role of the mayor, a non-voting position, Ash often stressed that it was as much work, if not more, than being a city councilor. Not only did the mayor have to know what was happening for discussion and the occasional tie-breaking vote, he said, but he was kept busy as the official face of the city, at ribbon cuttings, parades and other civic events.

Councilor Mary Mortier said Ash used to be more "bullish" but had become mellower and wiser with age. "You're a humble man who is very loved by many, many people in this community," she said, adding that she especially appreciated his knowledge of the city's history and his willingness to listen to many views before making up his mind.

Councilor Eric Sanders said Ash embodied the spirit of his own father, who died when Sanders was 18. Councilor John Arrison recalled appreciatively how Ash had encouraged him in his own political campaign — an early, unsuccessful bid for the Ward 5 council seat he now holds — despite his being a political novice from "away."

City Manager Joe Slocum read the individual years in which Ash served, drawing attention to the length of his tenure in a way that book-ending years might not have. He also recognized the former mayor's wife, Joann Ash.

The City Council gave the longtime mayor a plaque with the ceremonial key to the city above a summary of his public service. Ash, in typical fashion, redirected the praise back on city employees, whom he called "top-notch, second to nobody." He kept his remarks short, saying he hoped to be leaving Belfast in a better place than he had found it.

"I'm not going nowhere," he said. "I'll still be around keeping an eye out. And if at any time they need my assistance, all they have to do is get on the phone.

"Will I miss it?" he said. "Yeah, I'll miss it. But I'll live. There's life after."

Walter Ash gives a parting wave Nov. 21 at a celebration of his decade-long tenure as Belfast mayor. Behind Ash are City Councilors Neal Harkness, left, and Eric Sanders. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Walter Ash and his wife Joann at a ceremony Nov. 21 honoring the longtime Belfast mayor. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Comments (1)
Posted by: John E Marshall | Nov 26, 2017 12:38

It was my good fortune to count Walter as a friend and staunch Democrat. The "good" times we had hauling the booth to and from Common Ground Fair. Walter was always ready with a helping hand.

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