BREEZEWOOD - The small farm just south of Breezewood where she now lives is a far cry from Lynn Ashe's former life in Washington, D.C., two decades ago.
A former CIA case officer who was raised in Dearborn, Mich., Ashe, 73, is a big-city girl, but she has made an indelible mark on this rural area. Although she realizes she will "always, always" technically be an outsider, she considers Bedford County her perfect home.
Busy in the community as a volunteer for many organizations, Ashe was awarded the Athena Award from the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce this fall.
Lynn Ashe, 73, spent years working as a CIA?case officer in Washington, D.C., but now spends her time volunteering near her home in Bedford County. She recently received the county Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Award.
Solitude and space were prerequisites as she and her late husband, Craig, searched for their retirement home. They moved to Bedford County in 1990 because they fell in love with the area. Although there was lots to do in Arlington, Va., where they had been living, she said there was a lot of traffic and not a lot of room to roam.
The couple retired the same year from colorful careers - he as a member of the Secret Service for the White House, and she as a case officer for the CIA.
They met in Paris on assignment, and though Ashe vowed to remain single forever, she was smitten. They married on Valentine's Day in 1977.
The Ashe file
Name: Lynn Ashe
Hometown: Grew up in Dearborn, Mich., but lives in Breezewood
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit
Career: Case officer with the CIA
Volunteering: Bedford County Arts Council, Your Safe Haven, Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Bedford County, the Allegany College Education Foundation, Everett Food Bank, Home Nursing Agency as a hospice volunteer and Leadership Bedford County
Interests: Walking, art and volunteering
Ashe was 37 when they got married and the couple talked about possibly adopting children, but they opted for a cat instead.
"We never quite got past adopting the cat," Ashe jokes.
While they lived together, the couple was often apart for their jobs, or at the very least, extremely busy.
Working for the CIA, Ashe traveled to Paris, London, Saigon and the Congo, among other destinations. She and her husband often worked long hours for the Secret Service.
"Craig and I had killer jobs. We weren't able to do much besides work," Ashe said.
So, when it came time to retire, the couple made sure they would involve themselves in only activities and organizations they truly loved.
"My friends joked about how long it would take for us to get bored up here in Bedford, but that has never happened. We stayed busy and got involved," Ashe said.
When they moved to Bedford County, they were still relatively young and had enough energy to devote to multiple projects.
"We were able to do anything that captured our hearts and our imaginations," Ashe said.
To say she "got involved" is an understatement. The list of charities, organizations, nonprofits and clubs for which she volunteers is long and impressive. It was her commitment to volunteering and charity work in the community that spurred her selection as the Athena Award winner.
The chamber began giving the award locally in 1990, and for many years, Ashe was on the committee that chose the winners.
"One of the astonishing things for people is that Lynn had never previously won," said Kellie Goodman Shaffer, executive director of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce. "My guess is that she had been nominated before, but she probably removed herself as a nominee because she was involved in the process. I think a lot of people thought it was long overdue. She's just an incredible woman."
Ashe said she was shocked, but flattered, to receive the award, for which she insists she has "nominated more deserving people."
"It surprised and pleased me, but I was profoundly embarrassed. I'm glad I didn't know ahead of time. If I had known, I would have left town," she jokes.
Though Ashe is humble about receiving the award, she admits she is glad the award was given to a volunteer for the first time in Bedford County. In the past, the award has been given to women for their paid work.
"When you have the time and energy to help people, how can you not?" she said.
Ashe is probably most involved with the Bedford County Arts Council and Your Safe Haven, an organization that helps crime victims. She also dedicates extensive time to the Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Bedford County, the Allegany College Education Foundation, Everett Food Bank, Home Nursing Agency as a hospice volunteer and Leadership Bedford County, among other organizations.
"You would be hard-pressed to list all of the things she does for people in Bedford County," said best friend Barbara Debski, who nominated Ashe for the award. "It's the size of her heart, the kindness she has for everyone."
Debski personally experienced Ashe's kindness and compassion many times, but most profoundly when her mother died and Ashe was there for her through it all.
Debski said she and Ashe are like "Thelma and Louise, without the driving off the cliff part."
Ashe hired Debski as the first paid director for the Bedford County Arts Center in the early 1990s.
"We liked each other right off the bat. We just really became friends," said Debski.
Ashe said she was grateful for Debski when her husband of 28 years died of a heart attack unexpectedly at age 59 seven years ago. At the time, the couple were in Michigan visiting her family. When Debski heard the news, she immediately flew to Michigan and drove home to Bedford County with her friend.
Craig's death was devastating for Ashe. Six months after his death, she found herself refusing to celebrate Christmas that year.
"I just couldn't do Christmas," Ashe said.
But her best friends, including Debski, wouldn't have it. They took her a Christmas tree, decorated it, played Christmas music and ate dinner with her.
"It segued into something great. Now it's just a joyous time," Ashe said, explaining she values her friendships in Bedford County. "This is where my heart is and where my friends are. I'm very blessed."