Somerville – Anne Claire (Gordon) Ashton, 90, formerly of Marlborough, died on the evening of Friday, Feb. 10, 2012 with her daughter at her side.
She was the only child of Annie (Lyons) Gordon and James Michael Gordon, and was raised in Woburn, Stoneham, and Malden. She graduated from Bishop Cheverus High School, Malden, in 1939, where she was an outstanding student and athlete, captaining her basketball and field hockey teams.
Mrs. Ashton was an avid pianist and organist and became the special occasion church organist on the great pipes of Malden's Sacred Heart Church during her junior and senior school years. She was the recipient of the St. Agnes Medal, the highest honor given to teenage members in the Catholic Youth Organization.
She was awarded scholarships to two all-women's liberal arts colleges, but her parents insisted she learn a trade. She reluctantly attended Malden Business College, where she led all her classes academically. Upon graduation. she worked as an executive secretary for the Coleman Boat Company and for the Edgar P. Louis Candy Company. She finished her professional business career as the office manager for the thriving sales and marketing office of New England Coke in 1947.
In 1941, she had a chance encounter on Washington Street in Boston with the owner of I.J. Fox. With his encouragement she began modeling furs for I. J. Fox. Furs led to swimsuits and gowns and Mrs. Ashton was often found on weekends on various runways and stages in Boston and New York. She became “Miss New England” in the mid 1940s. She ended her formal modeling career in 1947, but continued to model at industry trade shows well into the 1960s, showing of apparel to the wives of executives, whose husbands (including her own) were doing business elsewhere.
She met her future husband, Vincent E. “Duke” Ashton, in 1940 and they were married August 29, 1943. They began their married life in the Maplewood section of Malden. She became involved with parish activities at St. Joseph's Church and began a lifelong passion with volunteering and civic advocacy that initially involved the Girl Scouts. She gave birth of her only child, Kathleen, Dec. 9, 1947. The family moved to Marlborough in 1957.
Not long after moving to Marlborough, Mrs. Ashton's passion, good looks, and colorful personality made her a welcome addition to the variety of community endeavors where her volunteer work benefited hundreds. She continued her involvement by serving the Girl Scouts Bay Path Colonial Council and the Patriots’ Trail Council as Neighborhood Chairman, Board Vice President and Field Vice President. In 1994, she was the recipient of the Girl Scout 50-year pin, marking a half century of Girl Scout activities. In 1995, she was awarded the Thanks Badge, the highest honor given to volunteers in the Girl Scout Organization.
Her love for language, diction, and reading led to her involvement with Friends of the Marlborough Public Library, where as a member of the Board of Directors and Program Chairman for the Friends Author/Celebrity Series, she welcomed celebrated authors, who discussed their books with local residents. The 26th season of the series was dedicated to Mrs. Ashton, acknowledging her 22 years working with co-chairs Jack Beatty, Katy Bacon, and Maurice Lewis, and featuring authors such as Julia Child, Arthur Golden, James Carroll and Dennis Lehane.
Mrs. Ashton was still adept at the piano, as well as an opera fan, leading to lifelong subscriptions to the Metropolitan Opera in Boston Series and the Boston opera company Series. When the opportunity arose, she joined the Board of Directors of the Greater Marlborough Symphony Orchestra, where she served on the music selection committee.
At Marlborough Hospital, her quick wit and ready smile made her the perfect person for initiating a Patient Advocacy Program, and becoming one of the Volunteer Patient Representatives, serving as a liaison between patients and staff. She also acted as the Hospital's liaison to the state legislature, lobbying on behalf of the Hospital and regional health care issues. She completed the circle of dedicated work for the local hospital as a member of the Marlborough Hospital Auxiliary.
She was one of the founders of the united Way of Marlborough (now the United Way of Tri-County), a charter member of the League of Women Voters, and the first woman corporator of the Marlborough Savings Bank.
Following her husband's death in 2002, Mrs. Ashton continued her vibrant volunteer and advocacy activities until health issues necessitated a move in December 2005 to Somerville, where she made her home with her daughter, Kathleen. In November 2011, she became a resident of Woodbriar at Wilmington, where she could often be heard instructing staff in the proper pronunciation of “aunt” and the use of qualifiers such as neither/nor versus either/or. Since November, she faced surmounting health challenges with the grace, wit, and dignity with which she lived every day.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her godchildren, Lisa (Mucci) McNealy of Raleigh North Carolina, Marianne (Parkins) Prochilo of Saugus, and Steven Kincaid of Hopedale, and hundreds of friends and acquaintances.
A visitation will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 9 to 11 a.m., at St. Matthias Church, 409 Hemenway St., Marlborough, followed by a funeral service at 11 a.m. The Slattery Funeral Home of Marlborough is assisting with arrangements.
For online condolences, visit www.slatteryfuneralhome.com.