Duffield Ashmead III, 80, descendant of historic Phila. family

Posted: March 17, 2006

Duffield Ashmead III, 80, scion of one of Philadelphia's historic names, died of multiple organ failure Monday at Roxborough Memorial Hospital. He lived in Chestnut Hill until two years ago, when he moved to Cathedral Village, a Roxborough retirement community.

The name dates back to widow Mary Ashmead, who moved here with her three children from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, in 1683 - one year after William Penn's arrival. Her family settled on 250 acres in what is now Cheltenham Township, and her descendants purchased 500 acres on what became Chestnut Hill. The stone mansion they built remained a landmark into the 19th century.

Ashmead is one of the 225 surnames allowed entry in the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Wars, a roster that includes such famous Philadelphia names as Mifflin, Wayne and Clothier.

Mr. Ashmead grew up in St. Davids and graduated from Episcopal Academy in 1943, the same year he enlisted in the Navy. Mr. Ashmead served in the Pacific during World War II on the destroyer USS Vesole for three years before being discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant junior grade.

After earning a bachelor's in mathematics in 1948 from the University of Pennsylvania, he became an engineer for the Philco Corp. He stayed with the company seven years before deciding to do something different.

Mr. Ashmead returned to Penn to attend law school, where he was a member of the Law Review. After graduating in 1958, he joined the firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath, where he specialized in estate planning and probate matters. He retired in 1991.

Mr. Ashmead, who moved to Chestnut Hill after marrying Penelope Merritt in 1954, was active in civic and charitable organizations throughout his life.

Board memberships included the Southeastern chapter of the American Red Cross, the Cradle (an adoption agency based in Illinois), the Delaware Valley Diabetes Association, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (for which he remained a reader until shortly before his death).

An active member of the Episcopal Church, he was a vestryman of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill, served for 10 years on the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, and for several years as chancellor.

His wife, with whom he had two children, died in 1982. The following year, he married Jill Saunders Aspinwall, who brought two children to the marriage.

Mr. Ashmead was a voracious reader who could finish a book in one sitting, said his son, Duffield IV.

"He often was reading a book and working a crossword puzzle at the same time," his son said.

He had a passion for fly-fishing and golf.

"Long after his declining health kept him off the course, he continued to play vicariously" by watching tournaments on television, his son said, "cheering or cursing each stroke as if his own."

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Ashmead is survived by a daughter, Merritt Robinson; a stepson, William Aspinwall; a stepdaughter, Taylor Aspinwall; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin's Lane, Chestnut Hill. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Philadelphia Unit, 215 W. Church Rd., King of Prussia, Pa. 19406.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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