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Clifford Charles Ashby ’50

Cliff grew up a child of the Great Depression in Illinois, earning money by sweeping the shop floors of John Boos & Company, the butcher-block manufacturer cofounded by his great-grandfather in 1892. He became proficient at ham radio in his youth and served two years in the Merchant Marine in the South Pacific as a radio officer during World War II. After the war, he studied at Reed for the better part of two years, where he gained experience working on theatre lighting and set building. Intent on majoring in theatre, he transferred to the University of Iowa, where he fulfilled his goal.

Cliff and Sylvia Girsh, a fellow student in the theatre department and a playwright, married in 1950. He continued his study of theatre at the University of Hawaii–Manoa, and received an MA in theatre while working as a technical director. Next, at Stanford, Cliff earned a PhD in theatre history and joined the faculty at Texas Tech University in 1963. He made a directorial debut at the Cracker Box Theatre with Firebugs—Texas Tech’s first racially integrated production. The following spring he designed the set and lighting for the premiere performance in Tech’s new theatre building, and for 38 years, Cliff taught theatre and speech, and did directing and set and lighting designs for productions such as The Lower Depths, Tobacco Road, The Tempest, Mister Roberts, and Oklahoma! In 1976, he revived the famous Harley Sadler Tent Show as a Bicentennial event with many former tent show professionals participating, which he documented in his book Trouping Through Texas: Harley Sadler and his Tent Show.

From extensive travels throughout the Mediterranean, studying ancient Greek theatre structures, Cliff wrote Classical Greek Theatre: New Views of an Old Subject. In 2001, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Award of Excellence, Texas Tech’s highest faculty honor. As professor emeritus, he continued his research and writing, submitting an article for scholarly publication this spring.

Cliff enjoyed life in the great outdoors and traveling. He built a log cabin in Wyoming, did river canoeing, and made numerous whitewater runs of the Rio Grande. In 1989, he completed a 1,100-mile, single-canoe run of the Yukon River, from Canada through Alaska, to the Arctic Circle. He was a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Despite being legally blind for the past decade, Cliff walked his dogs daily and maintained a seat in the Chaucer Society, one of the oldest poker games in West Texas.

Cliff never lost his connection to Reed, donating a number of books from his extensive theatre collection to the Hauser Library. Survivors include his wife, son, daughter, granddaughter, and sister.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2015

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