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Woman of Wilson: Beth Ashe

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It wasn't in her plans to become a "Tennessee Transplant" and "devoted Rocky Top lover" - but Louisiana-born Beth Ashe has long trusted that God's plans were better than her own.

The former Sheriff and current Executive Director of The Tennessee Corrections Institute keeps a childhood photo tucked neatly into her Bible as a daily reminder of this.

"My grandmother gave me a sheriff's outfit for Christmas when I was four years old - six shooters, a gun belt, chaps, boots, hat and badge. I still keep a photo of it in my Bible in my office. It reminds me that God has a plan for all of us and we just need to seek His will in our lives to be fulfilled," she said.

Although her parents were pleased when she became a school teacher, Ashe's passion was not limited to the classroom. She recounted that one day the school principal called her into his office to speak on the telephone with the local sheriff. "He said he needed a woman to graduate from the law enforcement academy and since I had won eight titles in track and field in high school and played college basketball, thought I just might be able to make it through their tough academy," she said. "I told him I would do it under one condition - if he would promise to give me a summer job in the crime lab."

Ashe graduated from the academy, winning both the Scholastic Award and the Shotgun Competition Award. From there, she worked her way up - first as a forensic artist, then as a lab assistant before becoming a narcotics officer.

"I analyzed drug samples as a lab assistant, but I wanted more of the action when I saw the gas chromatographic mass spectrometer whirling away with test tubes with names of local children from families I had grown up with," Ashe said. "I wanted to be the one that arrested people selling those drugs to those children."

Ashe, who next worked with the Louisiana State Department of Education as a Drug Education Specialist, was approached by Louisiana State University to assist in designing an NCAA-approved drug testing program for their athletic department.

"I completed that project for my dad, as he was a former team captain for their football team," she said, adding that she met famous basketball player Shaquille O'Neal who called her "the drug lady" during an Athletes At-Risk program she taught.

Although Ashe filled her time with many worthy endeavors, such as chairing several state commissions and working as an administrator at the district attorney's office - her childhood dream of becoming a sheriff was hard to ignore.

"I attended law enforcement briefings and meetings, and I was convinced that I needed to run for sheriff... our sheriff had been in office for so long, he was really out of touch with the extent of the problems in the various communities he served. It was time for a change - but would they ever elect a woman?"

The people elected Ashe as their sheriff, and her first order of business was getting the entire sheriff's office and eight law enforcement centers nationally accredited, as well as the jail, prison and women's detention facility - all within her first 13 months.

"I was invited to meet several sheriffs from Middle Tennessee by a former female sheriff when I was first elected," she said. "Only one sheriff did not find time to meet with me that week - as he stated, unknowingly on an open line conference call, he was too busy to accommodate a request to meet with a 'lady' sheriff."

Years later, Ashe was invited to attend an FBI Leadership Academy for large law enforcement agency executives where she met this sheriff. "I noticed that a sheriff from Tennessee was listed on the roster. I learned days later while traveling on a bus to the Drug Enforcement Administration for a top secret briefing that this Tennessee sheriff was the same curt T that was too busy to meet with me on my trip to Tennessee... Needless to say, that sheriff got more than just the cold shoulder from me when he tried to speak to my group during class projects."

The Sheriff was Terry Ashe, from Wilson County - and would later become her husband. The couple have been wed for the past 11 years.

"I like to tell everyone we had a 'real hot' honeymoon and we saw plenty of 'fireworks' when we got married. But, we were actually married in a Baptist church very early on a Sunday morning on the Fourth of July and spent our honeymoon that night on top of Jerry McFarland's hill watching the panoramic firework show," she said.

The couple enjoy time with their three grown children, Jesse Fish, of Dreams Boutique in Lebanon, Johnny, a Lake Charles Louisiana Fire Department Station captain and Trevor, a DP (dynamic positioning) officer and graduate of Louisiana Tech and the Texas A&M's Maritime Academy, two grandsons, Kade and Garrett and Labradors Coal and Annabelle.

"I really like hanging out with my husband, when we don't pass each other on the interstate going in totally opposite directions," she joked, noting that her role as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Correction Institute certainly keeps her on-the-go.

"Our state agency is responsible for inspecting all of the 128 local adult correctional facilities in the state, as well as providing certification training and monitoring of the employees of those correctional facilities," Ashe said before describing her strong work ethic.

"I won't stop working until I know the service has improved and the numbers show marked improvements... My father told me, 'planning is everything,' ' success is what you strive for' and 'always continue moving toward greater challenges.'"

The woman Ashe most admires is Deborah in the book of Judges in the Bible. "I find myself always going back to the story of Deborah during the trying times of my life when there is a new project to complete that is going to require tireless dedication, concentration and commitment. Her story inspires me to keep moving forward in the right direction regardless of the battles ahead."

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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