Y.B. Ashby wasn't born in Grundy County, Tenn., but her soil is billowed by his grave. It's where his heart found a home and his soul took root.
Ashby's death on Nov. 3 left a yawning gap in the small rural county's "history community" that now must move on without one of its most positive forces.
"There's nobody who can replace him," said Jimmy Williams, president of the Mountain Heritage Preservation Society. "But I'd say that his friend Ray Winton can step in and ... do his best to take over what Mr. Ashby was doing for veterans."
Williams said Winton worked closely with Ashby, though no one is likely to match his friend's deeds.
A native of Madisonville, Texas, Ashby retired from New Orleans to Grundy County in the 1960s. He stayed busy opening a small printing and trophy business and launching the county's first Chamber of Commerce.
But he was just getting started.
In the mid-1980s, Ashby and his wife, Lea, started a small newspaper, the Grundy County Post, and in 1994 helped launch television station GCTV to broadcast County Commission and board of education meetings. He led presentations to honor veterans and educate people about their contributions.
Through those years, Ashby focused his efforts on local veterans, volunteerism, schools and the county's children.
In 2004, World War II veteran Ashby announced he was directing part of the proceeds of sales in his business to the Grundy County Veterans Historical Society, which he founded, to start working toward a museum.
In 2007, Tennessee Consolidated Coal Co. donated a church building in Coalmont for the museum and started fitting out the building to fill that role.
Through all those years, Ashby tirelessly attended the funerals of nearly every Grundy County veteran, playing taps on his self-playing bugle and often speaking a few words in his resonant voice on behalf of those who served.
"Mr. Ashby had always been an encourager for our community. He worked toward sharing the good news about our county and uplifting all ages, especially the children," said Gayle VanHooser, the county's register of deeds.
Family members say the county's greatest cheerleader will be "truly missed" by the community and his loved ones.
Ashby "had his hands in everything from starting the Veterans Museum to preaching in the area for over 50 years," granddaughter Tami Ashcraft said this week on behalf of the family.
His impact was felt by young and old until the very end.
"My grandson [Elijah Myers] was invited to do the pledge [of allegiance] about two weeks ago at a Grundy County school board meeting," VanHooser said.
"Mr. Ashby was there and he talked about how much pride it gave him that the youths in our county had an understanding of the importance of the pledge to the flag," she said. "He taught him patriotism right there."
Ashby "was always so happy to do the things that he did. He never had a bad attitude," said Grundy County Historical Center floor manager and membership Chairwoman Nadene Fultz Moore.
Williams, a Grundy County native, said he was not surprised that Ashby chose to stay when he moved to Grundy County, like so many others.
"They see something that causes them to stay," Williams said. "We're so proud he did."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...