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Of Character: Oklahoma father's family cliche became his son's motto

Albert Ashwood


A father’s family cliche became a son’s motto.

Tommy Ashwood repeated, seemingly without end, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

At first it wore Albert Ashwood out.

Then life, even in the darkest moments, shed light on the words, and the cliche became Albert’s motto.

Ashwood, 56, of Chandler, has served as state director for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management since 1997. Tommy Ashwood’s son oversees emergency management efforts in the state that ranks third nationally in Presidential Disaster Declarations. Albert is the longest tenured State Emergency Management Director in the nation.

Albert said that through each experience he has held tight to his father’s words.

“I think people can tell when you’re talking a good game,” he said. “I work very hard to lead by example and to be held accountable for my actions. I accepted my first appointment as director from Governor Keating, then Governor Henry and now Governor Fallin. In each case, I never considered saying no. If the Governor of this great state felt I was the right person for the job, then my mission was simply to prove them right.

“I’ve been blessed with the relationship I’ve shared with each of my bosses.”

It’s important to Ashwood to remember not only who he is working with in state government, but who he is working for – Oklahoma’s residents.

“I think the day I forget about the feelings of the victims is the day I should retire,” he said. “Unfortunately, since they started counting, only Texas and California have received more presidential disaster declarations than Oklahoma. Therefore, we get a great deal of practice and it can be easy to grow cynical over the years. But, you must remember that each of these occurrences are catastrophic to the individual victims.

“It’s important that we not only do everything we can, but that we also work closely with the voluntary agencies, who can provide services beyond the limits of the law. Government is a service industry and if we quit providing our service to individuals and communities, there is no reason for our department to exist.”

Ashwood began working with the department in 1988 as a public information officer. He served as deputy director before taking his current position. So that means he was working for the department on a day when tragedy personally touched his family – April 19, 1995. His wife’s sister, Susan Ferrell was among those who died as a result of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.

“I arrived at the Murrah Building approximately 20 minutes after the explosion and proceeded to do my job, in support of the first responders,” Ashwood said. “But, I never quit looking for Susan. I was sure I could find her and relay the good news to the rest of my family. As the day went on and the number of wounded decreased, it became apparent that the chances of her surviving were diminishing.

“As a family, we received notification of her death on Saturday the 22nd. Since the bombing, April 19, 1995 has been a watershed in my life as well as my family’s. We tend to remember events in our lives as those which occurred before the bombing and those which occurred after the bombing.”

When asked if that experience influenced the way he approaches his job, Ashwood replied, “Absolutely.”

“I know I didn’t like being a victim,” he said. “I also realize that while I love and appreciate my job, and will perform my duties to the best of my ability, there are several items which rank higher on my personal priority list. If I were to lose my job tomorrow, I’d like for it to be because I tried to do too much and not too little.”

And personally how did it change Ashwood?

The tragedy of the bombing strengthened the father’s cliche that had become the son’s motto.

“The Memorial Mission Statement refers to those ‘changed forever’ and I would definitely put myself in that group,” he said. “I like to think I’m a more humble, caring and compassionate person, but I’ll never let myself forget my father’s words. It’s through my actions that I must exhibit these characteristics.”

Bryan Painter

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