Thomas W. Ludlow Ashley, 87

Ohio congressman and public housing supporter Thomas W. Ludlow Ashley dies at 87

Mr. Ashley, third from right, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1955 to 1981.
Mr. Ashley, third from right, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1955 to 1981. (1977 Photo By Associated Press)
By T. Rees Shapiro
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thomas W. Ludlow Ashley, 87, a 13-term Ohio Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives who was chiefly known for his work on housing and addressing the energy crisis of the 1970s, died of melanoma June 15 at his home in Leland, Mich.

Mr. Ashley -- known colloquially as "Lud" -- served Ohio's 9th District, which includes Lucas County and the city of Toledo, from 1955 to 1981.

As chairman of a House subcommittee on housing and community development, Mr. Ashley was a key supporter of legislation to provide federal grants to cities and counties to improve low- and moderate-income housing.

"Americans sleep in better homes today because of Lud Ashley, " Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) once said of Mr. Ashley's extensive work on low-income housing legislation.

In 1977, Mr. Ashley was appointed to an ad hoc energy committee by House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who said he picked Mr. Ashley because he had "toughness, and a never-say-die attitude, and who, when he was put on the first team, could run with the ball."

A year later, Mr. Ashley helped the 40-member bipartisan group pass a series of energy bills aimed at reducing the nation's use of oil and increasing the budget for research into alternative energy sources.

Upon his appointment to the position, Mr. Ashley assured critics that he would not be close to the automobile industry. At the time, Toledo housed the headquarters of many car-parts manufacturers and an American Motors plant that produced Jeeps.

"That district is a part of me," Mr. Ludlow told the New York Times in 1977. "It is responsible for the perspective I bring with me. But my view is that my district elected me to represent, when called upon, a larger national interest."

Thomas William Ludlow Ashley was born Jan. 11, 1923, in Toledo. His great-grandfather, James Mitchell Ashley, served Ohio's 9th District from 1859 to 1869 as a Republican, having switched from the Democratic Party because he was vehemently opposed to slavery.

The elder Ashley co-authored the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and led the campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, who he claimed had conspired to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in order to assume the presidency. He was also chairman of a committee on territories and helped choose the names for Wyoming and Montana.

After Army service in the Pacific during World War II, the younger Mr. Ashley graduated from Yale University in 1948. At Yale, he became close friends with George H.W. Bush when they were members of the Skull and Bones secret society.

He received a law degree from Ohio State University in 1951 and practiced law for a short time with his father before moving to New York to work for Radio Free Europe.

Before losing his House seat in the Reagan landslide of 1980, the only time Mr. Ashley had come close to being defeated was in 1974. The race occurred only months after he'd been convicted of drunken driving and resisting arrest in Toledo, and Mr. Ashley eked out a victory over his Republican opponent by a margin of 3,500 votes.

Mr. Ashley directed federal funds toward his district, including more than $15 million for public housing units and $11 million for the improvement of the Port of Toledo. By an act of Congress in recent years, the city's federal courthouse was named in his and his great-grandfather's honor.

His marriage to Margaret Mary Sherman ended in divorce. His second wife, Kathleen Lucey Ashley, died in 1997.

He had two children from his first marriage; two children from his second marriage; and a brother.

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