Walter C. Ashley of Oak Bluffs, outdoorsman and proprietor of C&W Power Equipment, the well-known, one-man, fix-anything shop tucked away on the edge of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport business park, died Saturday, June 28 at his home in Oak Bluffs following a courageous year-long battle with cancer. He was 63.
Walter and his loving wife and companion, Connie, moved to the Island from Dighton in 1979 when SBS Grain Store in Vineyard Haven hired Walter to repair small engine equipment. His skill was evident and three years later he and Connie opened C&W Power Equipment tucked up a dead-end lane off Airport Road.
The nondescript wooden building more reminiscent of Maine than Martha’s Vineyard became an intersection of Island life, where summer folks with lawn mowers and workmen with brush cutters and chain saws converged. The conversation ranged from Island politics to hunting and fishing techniques, all interspersed with Walter’s wry observations.
Dan Cabot of West Tisbury captured Walter’s sense of humor in an essay about being on the Island for Christmas vacation in 1980, when Vineyard Haven harbor froze and the (probably faulty) thermometer at his house read 20 below zero.
“I was very proud of 20 below zero. I made it a point to see as many people as I could find that morning and slyly asked each one, ‘How cold was it at your house last night?’ Pure one-upmanship. I was getting them ready to be out-thermometered. ‘Twenty below at Glimmerglass,’ I would say offhandedly, as if this were nothing remarkable for me. My plan worked fine until I ran into Walter Ashley at SBS.
Walter allowed as how it had been ten below at his house. “‘Course,” he added, “I don’t know what it was outside.’”
A first-time visitor to C&W unfamiliar with Walter’s gruff exterior could easily be intimidated. He had a countenance that could sting a bee. But he was generous and honest to a fault.
“Walter’s hard shell was legendary, but once that shell was cracked — with courtesy and a few prompt payments — his real side, the friendly and generous one would begin to show,” said Scott McArthur of McArthur Tree Care in West Tisbury. “Some of us commercial customers who over time developed a relationship with Walter were particularly fortunate as he would more often than not drop everything to help us get out of a jam. He didn’t want us to miss much work time if he were the difference. We’ll miss Walter terribly for his mechanical expertise but much more for his friendship. We who knew him know how lucky we are to have known such a man.”
For many years, Walter operated a deer check station for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife where he dispensed doe tags and hunting advice. Deer hunting was his passion. “I’d go if they had a stick and stone season,” he once told an interviewer.
Not surprisingly, he asked that his ashes be sprinkled over his favorite Island hunting spot. His spirit will continue to rest in the woods he loved.
Walter C. Ashley, was born on August 9, 1950, in Taunton. He entered military service during the Vietnam War and reached the rank of E-5 in the Army. A certified expert marksman, he served in Vietnam as an aircraft mechanic and repairman. Walter received medals for National Defense Service, Vietnam Service, and Good Conduct Service.
He shared his interest in the outdoors and his skills. A past member of American Legion and the Martha’s Vineyard Rod & Gun Club, he taught Hunter Safety Education on the island for 14 years and volunteered and participated in the annual Ag Fair woodsman contest. He also volunteered for the MV Search and Rescue Team.
Walter was practical and forthright. His work was not only a living but a passion. Due to his illness, Walter closed his business with deep regrets. In his remaining year he relied on the help and support of some very good friends to get through this transition and he expressed his gratitude to his family often.
He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Connie Ashley, his two daughters, Jacquelyn Ashley of Fall River and Angela Ashley of Dighton, his mother Dora Ashley of Dighton, five siblings, their husbands and wives, and several nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be private. A memorial service will be planned for a later date.
In lieu of flowers, friends are welcome to make donations to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, the American Legion, or Camp Jabberwocky.