Roles from fire chief to crossing guard
Walter R. Ash Jr. was 70 years old at the end of his Saddle River mayoral term. But his public service career was just getting started.
Over his next two decades, he held a string of borough offices and jobs that amounted to nearly full-time work: fire chief, Planning Board member, fire inspector, emergency management coordinator and school crossing guard.
"He was a celebrity here," Borough Clerk Marie Elena Macari said. "He loved this town and really cared about it and people here felt the same about him."
Mr. Ash, who died Friday at 95, was so dedicated to the borough that even after he moved to Cedar Crest Village in Pequannock in 2005, he continued commuting to Saddle River to man his crossing guard post at Wandell Elementary School and fulfill his fire-inspector and emergency management duties.
He retired at 89 because of declining eyesight, his son, Walter III, said.
The former mayor particularly loved being a crossing guard.
"The kids treated him like a king, and he loved chit-chatting with the young mothers," his son said.
Public service helped fill a void in Mr. Ash's life. His wife, Elise, died in 1981, while he was on Borough Council. He ran successfully for mayor in 1984.
His government roles helped alleviate the loneliness, his son said.
"He was married to Saddle River," Walter Ash III said. "That's what kept him going."
Walter R. Ash Jr. grew up in Hackensack, where his stepfather, Spencer D. Baldwin, was mayor in the 1920s. He served in the Army in World War II and received a degree in accounting from Pace Institute in New York. He and his wife lived in River Edge and Oradell before moving to Saddle River in 1974.
Mr. Ash owned a family lumber business and then worked as an auditor for Paid Prescription LLC.
Walter Ash III said his father was a natural politician an outgoing man who could "smooth the ruffles on a porcupine." The folks in Saddle River apparently agreed: Mr. Ash twice was chosen as Memorial Day parade grand marshal, and he received the key to the borough in |2010.
Mr. Ash is survived by his children, Walter Ash III of Ringwood, Elise Rigoletti of Cumming, cq Ga., and Bruce Ash of Denville; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Services are this morning tues at 10 at M. John Scanlan Funeral Home, Pequannock. Interment will be in Hackensack Cemetery.