ATHENS - Henderson County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Henry Ashford died Saturday in Waco, the victim of an apparent heart attack.
Ashford, who was 65-years-old, had gone to Waco to visit family members. An employee in his office said he had been in good spirits, Friday, and was excited about the trip.
Ashford’s office was in the Henderson County Justice Center, where he handled many of the arraignments for the county. He was also often at the scene of fatality wrecks and other deaths that required his services.
Ashford was first elected to the office in March 2002, defeating Cristy Hart. Because Ashford had no Republican opponent in the November election, incumbent Bill Burton resigned allowing Ashford to take office about eight months early.
“It’s my desire to be an asset to the county,” Ashford said. “I’ll make you proud.”
Ashford was re-elected in 2010, with no opposition and repeated the feat in 2010.
Ashford was vocal in the 2011 Henderson County redistricting hearings in which major changes to the Precinct 1 JP map were discussed. Commissioners looked at one suggested map that would have placed the entire city of Athens in Precinct 1.
That map, met with Ashford’s disapproval, because he questioned whether the map could pass the scrutiny of the Department of Justice. Ashford believed the map would dilute minority representation.
“He was a tremendous advocate for fair and equitable treatment of all people,” Henderson County Democratic Party Chairman Marsha Head said. “ He was not bashful about speaking up before the Redistricting Committee.”
Constable Daryl Graham was Ashford’s campaign chairman when he first sought the JP office and worked closely with him during his tenure.
“We’ve been friends ever since he first ran for office,” Graham said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Ashford served in the Army during the Vietnam War and was Pastor at Mt. Providence Baptist Church before becoming Justice of the Peace.
“He was a pioneer and a pillar of the community,” Graham said. “He served honorably and was very professional.”
Ashford cared for the young people of the community, Graham said, and tried to guide them in the right direction while handling numerous truancy cases.
Ashford was planning to announce his retirement soon, Head said, and had recently discussed a possible replacement with County Judge Richard Sanders. Commissioners Court will now have the responsibility of naming a replacement to serve out the unexpired term which runs through December 31, 2013.
“First, we want to send our condolences to his family,” Sanders said. “It’s sad that he didn’t get a chance to enjoy his retirement.”
Sanders said he and County Attorney Clint Davis will be meeting with Ashford’s staff to map out how his duties will be handled until a replacement is selected.
Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church in Athens. Viewing will be at 12 p.m., Friday at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.
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