Whether the 6-1 Charles P. Ashby was in the choir loft of Bethel African Methodist Church, on a World War II battlefield, working in the business world or in his Five Towns community, the lifelong Inwood resident stood tall.
Known affectionately by his middle name, Percy, to family and friends, he was dapper in dress and meticulous, whether maintaining financial records or the details of his memories. Ashby, who turned 100 on May 10, died on Nov. 4.
A lifelong member of the Bethel Church, Ashby sung non-professionally nearly all his life at the Far Rockaway house of worship. He organized and served as the first president of the Junior Choir, then sang with the Jubilee, Gospel and Men’s choruses, and the Senior Choir. He was a church steward, a clerk, Lay organization member, treasurer and vice chairman of the Commission on Stewardship and Finance.
“Financially, he was my mentor,” said Renee Shivers, who knew Ashby since 1995 and was one of nearly 100 people who attended his funeral at the church on Nov. 14. “He taught me everything about how to keep those books. He will be missed by everybody.”
Born to Eugene and Rhoda Ashby, Charles graduated from Lawrence High School. Later on he attended Pace College in New York City and Hofstra University. His service in World War II is historical.
A non-commissioned officer with the famed 761st Tank Battalion in World War II, also known as the Black Panthers, the tank corps was commanded by Gen. George Patton. The two other black tank battalions were the 758th and the 784th. At the time, the military was segregated. Ashby was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service and several letters of commendation.
“Charles Ashby was living history and never forgot a thing,” said Jeff Burns Jr., another lifelong Inwood resident whose father, Jeff Burns Sr., also served in the 761st, and has known Ashby his entire life.
From 2011 to 2018, Burns and Ashby collaborated on a Black History Month program that highlighted the Black Panther units. “We started out with Charles talking from his perspective and I talked from my father’s perspective,” said Burns, adding that Patton gave Ashby the added responsibility of teaching the less educated soldiers how to read and write. Last year, a street sign was installed in memory of Burns Sr. at the intersection of Bayview Avenue and Thomas Court in Inwood.
After his discharge, Ashby continued to work for the military branches — Navy, Army and Air Force — as an auditor and finance technician. Then he was employed by Evelyn Pearson Inc., a women’s apparel company, until he retired in 1992 at 73.
Along with his volunteer church work, Ashby was civically engaged. He was a board chairman and president of the Nassau County Economic Opportunity Commission, and on the boards of the Five Towns Community Center, the Inwood-Nassau Community Health Center and the Peninsula Counseling Center.
“He was a wonderful man, who worked very hard and contributed a lot to his church,” said Pat Jones, also a church member and Inwood resident. “He was a faithful servant of God, and gave of his time, talent and wealth of history.” Jones noted that a few times Ashby dipped into his own pockets to help the church.
Rev. Dr. Evelyn Miller-Suber has been the church pastor only since August. In that brief time, Ashby made his presence known. Noting everything he had done in his life, she said: “He will be missed by everyone at the church. We will miss him dearly.”