Five days a week, I travel up MacArthur Boulevard NW to reach my job in Bethesda. A few months ago, while sitting behind a stopped school bus, I noticed a blue sign over the green MacArthur Boulevard sign. It is located over the 4900 block of MacArthur and says “Sergeant John Ashley Blvd.” Do you know who Sgt. John Ashley is and why he has a sign there?
— Stacey Kornegay, Washington
Sgt. John S. Ashley joined the Washington police force in 1997. He served in several communities around the city — the 4th, 6th and 7th police districts — before arriving in the Second District, or 2D as it’s known.
“John was an amazing police officer,” Alma Gates, a community leader in her Palisades neighborhood, told Answer Man. “He was young. He had these bright eyes and most wonderful smile. He was not a threatening person. He was sort of the classic beat cop, you know, that we hear about in old stories.”
Residents especially appreciated the way Sgt. Ashley was able to reduce speeding in the neighborhood. He would park his police car on W Street, facing MacArthur. He was honored two years in a row for his traffic work. He also helped investigate a car bombing in the summer of 2002.
On the afternoon of May 30, 2004 — a Sunday — Sgt. Ashley was on routine patrol in Georgetown when he spotted a dachshund running away from its handler. The dachshund was named Gilbert and he belonged to George Stephanopoulos, former Clinton staffer and now ABC News host.
Sgt. Ashley jumped from his police car and started chasing the dog. He soon collapsed from an undiagnosed heart condition. He was rushed to George Washington University Medical Center, where he died. He was 37 and left behind a daughter.
“It’s such a sad story,” Stephanopoulos told The Post. “It’s made me heartsick.”
In May of 2005 the D.C. Council passed a ceremonial resolution designating the 4900 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW as “Sergeant John Ashley Boulevard.”
Said Alma: “I think when people like John go the extra mile for the community, they deserve to be recognized.”
The location isn’t where the officer died — he was stricken in the 1600 block of 30th Street NW — but it’s where he often would park his police car.
In the median nearby is an engraved stone erected by residents and Sgt. Ashley’s parents. Carved on the stone’s face are the words: “It is better to have lived one day as a lion than a lifetime as a lamb.”
“That was John’s saying,” Alma said. “He signed every e-mail with that.”
Last week Answer Man wondered whether all the itinerant knife-sharpeners who once roamed the Washington area drove green trucks, or was it just one man with a single green truck?
He can’t say why for sure, but the color green does seem to be associated with knife-sharpening trucks, just as most ice cream trucks are white. Answer Man wonders if it had something to do with the green in the Italian flag, since most sharpeners — or “scissor-grinders,” as reader Judith Judson remembers them being called — were from Italy.
Ralph Lorenzetti grew up in Arlington. “My grandfather John Lorenzetti kept his green knife-sharpeners truck parked in the driveway until about 1950,” Ralph wrote. “And then my uncle Henry Lorenzetti continued in his green truck until about 1980.”
Ralph said his grandfather started about 1912 with a cart. Answer Man found images of such men, who muscled their foot-powered grinding wheels down the city’s streets and alleys. Eventually John Lorenzetti graduated to a horse-drawn wagon, then the green truck, most often working out of the Florida Avenue Market before moving to Arlington.
Wrote Ralph: “There were other knife-sharpeners in D.C. and across the U.S., most from my grandfather’s home region near Pinzolo, Italy.”
Today, a statue of a knife-sharpener stands in Pinzolo, honoring the young men who left to make their fortunes in America, one gleaming blade at a time.