Russell Ashford remembers he was driving along Vale Road near Oakton last Wednesday when he spotted a red and black purse on the shoulder of the road. He stopped, picked it up and began searching for some type of identification.

"There was a little red purse inside that had $22 to $23 in it," Ashford recalled. "There was one envelope fu11 of $20 bills, another with more $20 bills, and another with $5 and $10 bills . . . I opened a side zipper and $100 bills jumped out," he said.

In all, the surprised Ashford discovered $62,000 in cash and savings bonds. After three hours of telephoning, he finally reached the purse's owner - an elderly widow who had just received the proceeds from her late husband's life insurance policy.

"I'm so very thankful to him," said the elderly woman, who asked that her name not be printed.

Ashford, who owns a concrete firm called Lee Construction, received a $100 reward and a letter of thanks from the woman.

"Her daughter gave me $100, but I didn't want to take anything" for returning the purse, Ashford said. The widow's daughter would not let Ashford return the reward money.

"It kind of makes you feel good to help somebody like that," Ashford said. "I'm glad she got it back."

Ashford who lives at 11256 Waples Mill Rd. in Oakton, said the widow told him she had placed her purse on the trunk of a friend's car while talking. She said the friend drove off before she could retrieve the purse.

The woman and her friend later searched the road, but did not find the purse. "She said they had walked the road and prayed," Ashford said.

The concrete company owner said he found the woman's name on her checkbook, but could not reach her because her telephone line was busy. "She was calling the bank and everywhere she could," he said.

When Ashford, 64, got home about 6 p.m. Wednesday, he finally got through to the woman. Ashford said after he told the woman he had found her purse, she was so shaken and relieved that her daughter had to continue the phone conversation.

In the letter to Ashford, the widow said her husband died in October and that she "hadn't got over the shock . . ." She said everything she owned was in that purse.

"She was very grateful," Ashford said. She in turn described him as "one in a million." CAPTION: Picture, RUSSELL ASHFORD . . . "$100 bills jumped out"