Obituary in the Old Whitgiftian News (2008-2009)

Reverend Patrick Ashe
Peace Maker and Humanitarian

The Reverend Francis Patrick Bellesme Ashe, who, in 1967, with his wife Marion, and fellow parishioners in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire determined to rescue orphans in Saigon during the Vietnam War, leaves a legacy of peace building in some 26 countries over more than four decades.

Motivated by his Christian faith, and ignoring those who said he would not succeed, Pat Ashe, himself a father of seven, led his team to support hundreds of children abandoned and lost in the debris of war. Confident in their Christian conviction that this was God’s calling to them, Project Vietnam Orphans set up orphanages and schools in the heart of the Saigon battleground, and were instrumental in saving numerous young lives. As the city finally fell, many children were famously airlifted to the UK and new adoptive homes as part of his life saving mission. For Pat Ashe, the simple creed was that children should live without fear, want or deprivation. For many years he led a double life – running the large and busy parish of St. Mary’s, Leamington, whilst heading up PVO, as CORD was then known. After Vietnam, the charity worked with refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, changing its name to Christian Outreach. Later the words “Relief & Development” were added and the name CORD was adopted. Today the organisation employs some 800 people globally, many of them refugees.

Regarded as an inspirational humanitarian, Pat Ashe was born on 15 January 1915 in Boudja, Smyrna, Turkey, the youngest son of the Rev. Robert Pickering Ashe and Edith (Blackler) Ashe. He was taught by his mother until he was nine years old, and learned to speak colloquial Greek. In 1922 Smyrna was taken by the Turkish army. To avoid the pillage and massacre, the British subjects were taken off by the Royal Navy to Malta, where they stayed for some six months as refugees.

R.P. Ashe was then offered the Chaplaincy of Cartagena, Spain, where they stayed for two years, and Pat learned to speak Spanish. On their return to Smyrna, they found that all their belongings had been looted. In England, Pat attended Whitgift School (1926-34), Croydon before reading Modern Languages and Theology at St. John’s College Cambridge. He spent a year at Westcott House Theological College, and in 1938 taught at Adisadel College, Gold Coast. While he was there, the Second World War broke out. He returned to England via the Sahara, and was ordained in 1939 in the Diocese of Southwark, serving his title at St.Mary’s Church, Woolwich under the Rector, Cuthbert Bardsley, later Bishop of Coventry. Towards the end of the war he joined the Friends Relief Service, and the team was sent to Cairo where he first met Marion (Johnston) Bamber, the daughter of the Very Rev. Francis Johnston. The team was sent to Samos working under the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. On his return to England, Pat was made the Bishop of Southwark’s Chaplain to Youth.

He and Marion married in Southwark Cathedral in 1950, and Pat was made Vicar of Blindley Heath, Surrey. He served as Vicar of Otley, Yorkshire, Vicar of St. Mary’s Leamington Spa, and Rector of Church Stretton, Shropshire. He resigned his living in 1974 in order to concentrate on the work of Project Vietnam Orphans; and the couple moved the family home to Godalming. Pat retired in 1980, becoming Hon. Domestic Chaplain to Loseley House, and Chaplain at St. Francis, Littleton.

Regarded as a devout and spiritual person, the Rev Ashe was a mild and gently mannered man; a persona which belied a stubbornness based on his conviction of what was right. On moving to Leamington Spa, with the highest immigrant population in the area, he ran foul of the Keep Britain White campaign for his anti racist stance. His deep faith and belief in the power of prayer strengthened his determination to succeed despite enormous obstacles. Pat Ashe remained at the heart of CORD until his death. Hundreds of thousands of people who have had to flee for their lives from violent conflict, have been helped and supported to a new life by the organisation which he founded.

The Rev Ashe died peacefully after a short illness on January 6 in a Surrey hospital, just five months after losing his wife, Marion. He is survived by his seven children and 19 of his 21 grandchildren.