MERIDEN — At the Meriden Land Trust’s September meeting, Phil Ashton provided an update on his negotiations with the Suzio family to protect Chauncey Peak from excavation, sharing with the group that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would be undergoing experimental treatments.
“If I start glowing it’s because I’m taking some pretty stiff doses of radium,” he joked. “I don’t want to blindside anybody into thinking I’m made of iron. I’m not.”
Despite his condition, Ashton, 82, continued to attend meetings of the land trust and Connecticut Siting Council until a few weeks before his death on Friday. Family members said he never wavered in his mission to negotiate a way to preserve Chauncey Peak.
Community leaders reflected on Ashton’s impact on Meriden, including his contributions to community groups and flood control efforts that ultimately led to the construction of the Meriden Green.
“It’s a legacy of community service that was unparalleled,” said Ric Suzio, a co-owner of Suzio York Hill in Meriden.
Ashton’s wife of 60 years, Jane, said her husband stayed actively involved in civic life until Christmas, when his health rapidly declined. As a member of the Connecticut Siting Council, which handles the placement of telecommunication towers, Ashton attended a meeting on Dec. 22.
At their Meriden home Monday, Jane Ashton pulled out a photo of her husband with a huge smile at the opening of the Meriden Green.
“The picture just says it all. He was glad he persisted many years ago and then here’s the result, this gorgeous Meriden Green,” she said. “He was thrilled to pieces to be there and see it.”
The city’s public works director, Bob Bass, worked with Ashton on flood control projects.
“He gave his heart and soul to the city of Meriden. He wanted Meriden to be better” Bass said. “He and I didn’t always agree and I think that makes a project better because it requires everyone to come up with different ideas. I’m going to miss him.”
The local United Way’s executive director, Jim Ieronimo, described Ashton’s passion for the city as nearly parental.
“The Meriden community was like his adopted child and he was as protective of us as a community as he was of his own children,” Ieronimo said. “I think Meriden has lost a father figure, a friend to the community, that won’t be easily replaced.”
City Councilor Miguel Castro, a Democrat, said that despite being from different political parties, Ashton was an early supporter of his.
“He and many like him paved the way for people like me,” Castro said. “He’s certainly a pillar of the city of Meriden and all of its citizens are mourning the loss of a friend, a man of faith, a man who loved his family and a man who loved the city. He made major contributions that have transformed and helped rebrand the city in many ways.”
Ashton showed tremendous dedication to the task at hand, Suzio said, recalling Ashton’s incredible endurance.
“He was always trying to stay positive and have the right frame of mind, even on his worst days,” Suzio said. “I remember him when he threw out his back doing something for his church and he’s got a back brace on cleaning the gutters at the Boys & Girls Club. It was tough to keep him down.”
Suzio had been in discussions with Ashton regarding the future of Chauncey Peak, which is owned by Suzio York Hill. Discussions had continued until Ashton’s condition worsened after Christmas. Suzio said there have been no recent discussions regarding the peak, but praised Ashton for being a fair negotiator.
“In dealings that we had with him on Chauncey Peak and the ridge top protection he always had the city’s best interest in mind,” Suzio said.
The Meriden Land Trust president, former city manager Roger Kemp, said he will be continuing negotiations with the Suzios, noting the group is not giving up on its mission to preserve Chauncey Peak.