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Christmas lighting pioneer dies at 75

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The man who revolutionized Christmas lighting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has died after a short illness.

Kenneth Ash, whose house at Lowman’s Leeward on mainland St. Vincent is an extraordinary spectacle at Christmas time, died at his Brooklyn home on Nov. 19. He was 75.

He was surrounded at the time of his death by his immediate family, his niece, Sylvia Ash, a New York City Civil Court judge, told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview.

Judge Ash, who in January will be officially sworn in as a justice in New York Supreme Court, said her uncle, despite his success abroad, never forgot his “humble beginnings.”

She said Kenneth Ash took great pride in his Vincentian roots, noting that Christmas was one of his favorite holidays.

“As a young child, he remembered the excitement he felt when he saw the ‘Ironman Statute’ lit up at Christmas time,” the judge said, adding that her uncle wanted the young children of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to experience “this same joy and excitement.”

So, in 1991, Judge Ash said Kenneth Ash “introduced the tradition of lighting his home with thousands of Christmas lights, decorations, ornaments and animated figurines.”

Over the years, she said the extravagant display “grew more elaborate, and his lavishly decorated house on Lowman’s Hill became a Christmas attraction that drew enchanted visitors from across the nation.”

“By combining his love of Christmas and his love for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Uncle Kenneth used his electrical prowess to create an enduring Yuletide tradition that was the source of great pleasure and delight to children and adults alike,” Judge Ash said.

“Despite the many accolades Uncle Kenneth received for his Christmas lights display, his greatest reward was seeing the excitement and joy in the children’s faces when they visited his home each Christmas,” she added.

The judge said Ormond Kenneth Ash was born on Aug. 20, 1935, and was the fifth of eight children of the late Abel and Esmie Forbes Ash, of Kingstown Hill, Kingstown, the Vincentian capital.

At an early age, Kenneth Ash demonstrated a “talent for ingenuity and adeptness, and developed a keen interest in all things electrical,” Judge Ash said.

In addition to being a “master electrician,” she said Kenneth Ash, as a youth, was a “talented musician and popular entertainer.”

She said he and a group of childhood friends had formed “The Commandos,” a local steel band that “gained acclaim throughout the country.”

Judge Ash said one of the group’s proudest moments was when it played a “command performance” for Princess Margaret.

She said her uncle’s desire to master his electrician’s craft and to see the world inspired him to migrate to London, England, with his late brother, Dollis Forbes, in 1955.

There, she said her uncle quickly found employment as an electrician “and helped establish his brothers Dollis, Randolph and Henry in the electrical industry.”

Dedicated to his profession, Kenneth Ash worked as an electrical foreman and supervisor in London and New York, where he subsequently migrated to in 1968. He retired in 1998.

He was also a “proud member” of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers until his death, Judge Ash said.

In 1962, Kenneth Ash married Olive Prescod, a registered nurse. They were blessed with one child, Faustina Ash, now an attorney, who resides with her husband, Marc, and children, Simone and Cole, in Oregon.

“My dad worked hard and played hard,” Faustina Ash told Caribbean Life. “He was generous almost to a fault.

“He loved life and lived it his way, and taught me to do the same. There will always be a void in my life now that he is gone,” she added.

In the absence of her parents, who both died before she became a judge, Sylvia Ash said her uncle, Kenneth, was her “biggest supporter and cheering squad leader.

“He was my surrogate father who always told me that there were no limitations, except those we put on ourselves,” said Judge Ash, whose late father, “Fire” Ash, was one of Kenneth’s brothers.

“Fire” Ash had pioneered the Vincy Labor Day Carnival weekend at East 95th Street and Church Avenue in Brooklyn. The area was considered the hub of Vincentian cultural activities in New York.

A funeral service for Kenneth Ash was held in Brooklyn on Nov. 28, and the final one was held on Dec. 4 at the St. George’s Cathedral in Kingstown.

Updated 4:50 pm, July 9, 2018
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