SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Ashley K. Dearing, Jr., perhaps best known for the award that bears his name, died Saturday at Riverview Nursing Home.
The Ashley Dearing Award has been presented to Savannah's most versatile high school athlete each year since 1954.
But the name, Dearing, actually became familiar to most in Savannah in 1936, when Ashley Dearing, Sr. established Dearing Chevrolet in Savannah, at Oglethorpe Avenue and West Broad Street.
Young Ashley started working there off and on, doing odd jobs and oil changes when he was 13-years-old.
"I used to come down and help lubricate cars in the service department," said Ashley in a WTOC 1997 interview. "That's where I broke into the business. Both my brothers, Bill, Palmer and dad, all four of us were in the business at one time."
In his free time, Ashley played baseball and became quite an accomplished player until he was stricken with polio when he was 16-years-old. He beat back the disease, but it left him with very limited use of his legs. He used crutches for much of his life and a wheelchair in the latter years.
But to the amazement of many, Ashley Dearing never seemed to let the physical limitations slow him down.
He continued to help run Dearing Chevrolet until he and his brothers closed the dealership in 1986.
Meanwhile, his love for sports grew ever strong. When brother Bill became a star fullback at the University of Florida in the early '50s, Ashley Dearing became a Gator fan for life.
Local radio legend Al Jennings was right there with him.
"We both were big Florida Gator fans," Jennings recalled. "I was right there with him when they inducted him as an Honorary Member of the University of Florida Athletic Association Hall of Fame. We were also right there when that Lindsay Scott run happened in 1980 when they won their one national championship. Heck, only Gator fans saw it, 'cause the Bulldog fans were all gone, thinking we had won."
Always good natured with it, Ashley Dearing wore his signature Gator ties constantly even in Savannah, well "behind enemy lines".
But his real signature was on the award he started 55 years ago, the Ashley Dearing Award. Benedictine's Charlie Moore won the second one.
"To be associated with Ashley Dearing and to win his award just meant everything to a young boy," said Moore. "Even though he was a Savannah High guy and there was that great rivalry with BC, he was always very supportive of me and I'll never forget him. He was a wonderful guy."
The most recent recipient of the Ashley Dearing Award, John Moesch of Savannah Country Day, readily agrees.
"Mr. Dearing called me and I was taken back because he's such a respected man and all the great people that won this award before, I was really just blown back, " said Moesch.
As a devoted sports fan, Ashley Dearing took in countless games over the years with dear friend, Savannah lawyer and later Superior Court judge Frank Cheatham, who was similarly challenged by affects of polio.
A well known photo shows the two of them with Yankee legends, Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra at an exhibition game played at Grayson Stadium.
But, Ashley Dearing's tireless effort spread well beyond the field of play. He was active at St. John's Episcopal Church, the Exchange Club, the YMCA, Rotary Club, Jaycees and a host of other civic organizations.
In 1996, the Exchange Club added his name to their "Book of Golden Deeds", an honor reserved for those who have spent a lifetime contributing positively to the community.
Upon his passing, many recalled how his extraordinary life could have turned out much differently.
"There's a man who after having been struck down with polio could have folded his tent, you know he could have said, 'that's it I'll just sit in my wheelchair. No," says Jennings.
"He never wanted to be considered handicapped," Moore added. "His only handicap was that he couldn't do more for people."
Ashley Dearing was 85.
He was a resident of the Isle of Hope. Visitation is 5pm to 7pm on Monday, March 30 at Fox and Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel.
The funeral is at 10:30am on Tuesday, March 31 at St. John's Church Episcopal Church. The burial will be at the Greenwich section of Bonaventure Cemetery.
Remembrances are at St. John's Episcopal Church or the Victor B. Jenkins Boys Club.