By Steve Wolfgang
William Casey Ashworth, Sr., known to friends and Christians as “Billy,” passed from this life about 5:00 A.M. Tuesday, March 7. His loving wife of 57 years, Lois, and other family members were at his side when he crossed over.
Billy is survived by Lois; a son, Bill; a daughter, Bette (Mrs. Steve Wolf- gang); five grandchildren; a sister and several brothers, and a host of other relatives.
Funeral services were conducted on Thursday, March 9, at the Williamson Memorial Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee. A standing-room-only gathering, estimated by the funeral director to number about 400 persons, assembled to remember his life, and to honor his memory. Services were conducted by Steve Wolfgang, Donnie Rader, and Dorris Rader — Billy’s son-in-law, nephew, and brother-in-law.
Born October 8, 1919 in Williamson County, Tennessee, Billy lived in or near Franklin all his life, except for military service during World War II. He was a 1938 graduate of Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, and later used his GI benefits to attend David Lipscomb College in the early 1950s.
Enlisting in the US Army in 1941, Billy rose to the rank of artillery sergeant before accepting an officer’s commission in the Adjutant General Corps, carrying documents and messages under arms to and from the Pentagon. Transferring to the Army Air Corps in 1943, he completed pilot training, serving for the remainder of the war as a pilot of B-17s — the renowned “Flying Fortress.” During the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty, this time as a fighter pilot, flying P-47s. Ever patriotic, he flew the U.S. flag in front of his home and on his cars, and often fretted over the directions he feared his country was heading.
But as patriotic as he was, his first loyalty was to Jesus Christ. Raised in a devout Methodist family, he often said he was brought up to hate liquor and liars, and love the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ. It was that devotion, and his basic honesty, which caused him to study the Scriptures and ultimately to renounce all human creeds and churches, become simply a New Testament Christian, and preach the simple gospel of Christ, eschewing all doctrines and commandments of men.
He was helped in that process by the other great love of his life, Lois Rader. The love story of Billy and Lois is remarkable even now — they had met and dated before the war, and their relationship continued even when Billy went into service. Even though Lois suffered from active tuberculosis in a day when people would cross the street to avoid contact with her, Billy’s love for her was unwavering, and they married on February 5, 1943. Fifty years later, in February 1993, a host of relatives and friends gathered in Franklin to celebrate with them a half-century of marriage.
Lois’ uncompromising belief in the Lord would not permit her to renounce the Lord’s church to join a denomination, and it was her staunch refusal to compromise her faith that led Billy to study on his own. He was baptized by his brother-in-law, Dorris Rader, on March 3, 1950. But as Dorris observed at the funeral service, his basic honesty and search for the truth led to his conversion.
He often said he was baptized in the middle of a fight, as the churches in Middle Tennessee and elsewhere were in the early stages of the turmoil over the support of human institutions and aspects of the social gospel. Billy soon determined to preach, and when most of the Middle Tennessee churches were swept into an institutional mania, he and a few other stalwarts stood their ground. His preaching was clear, direct, and straight to the point. A common refrain of many in the throngs who visited in the funeral home was, “You never wondered where he stood on an issue.” Billy preached with zeal and conviction — there was fire in his message.
Billy preached his first sermon at the West End church in Franklin in December 1952, and began preaching regularly during 1953 at Peytonsville, then at Jones Chapel (1953-55), Old Lasea (1955-58), Almaville (1959-60), Berea (1961-63), New Hope (1963-64), and Kingston Springs (1965-67).
From 1968 to 1973, Billy preached at the Hillview church in Nashville where he enjoyed an especially close relationship with many of the brethren, returning there for his last local work from 1987-1990. In 1973 he began preaching at Oak Avenue in Dickson, one of the largest of the Middle Tennessee churches which had resisted the rush to support human institutions. While preaching there, he also served as an elder for several years. In 1982, he and Lois moved to Lewisburg, working with the Hickory Heights church until December 1986. After finishing his second work at Hillview, he and Lois became active members of the Collegevue church in Columbia, Tennessee, where they had retired. Lois still resides in Columbia with their son, Bill.
Much of Billy’s early preaching was done while employed in a full-time secular occupation. Even before World War II, he had begun a career with the U.S. Postal Service. Returning to the Post Office after his military service, he was appointed in 1957 as Postmaster in his home town, Franklin, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower — a point of particular satisfaction for Billy, who was keenly interested in politics (although prohibited by civil service regulations from participating or publicly endorsing a candidate).
His secular employment allowed Billy to serve several small churches which could not otherwise afford to have regular preaching. He served as Postmaster at Franklin until 1975 when he retired from government service after more than 35 years (including his military service). His early “retirement” allowed Billy to devote “full-time” efforts to the preaching of the gospel. His meeting work, mostly in Tennessee and the surrounding states of Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky, also took him further afield to Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
One small anecdote illustrates his painstaking honesty. When Billy took over the Postmaster’s office vacated by his predecessor, the only thing in the office, other than government-issue furniture and official files, were three pennies in an ash tray on the desk. One day, years later, when Lois was in his office, she noticed that they were still there and asked why he didn’t get rid of them. “They’re not mine,” was the simple reply from the man who taught his children “If it’s not yours, keep your hands off it — treat it like a rattlesnake.” When he left the office on 31 July 1975, they were still there.
But possibly Billy Ashworth’s most significant contribution was his radio preaching. Beginning in 1953, Billy preached for 18 years continuously on station WAGG in Franklin, sometimes paying for the air time out of his own pocket (though the time was often purchased by the local church with which he was working at the time). Through his radio preaching many listeners in Middle Tennessee heard teaching on the nature and work of the church, godly living, and the necessity to contend earnestly for the faith (as well as a host of other issues) which they might not otherwise have heard. He continued his radio preaching on stations in Dickson in the 1970s and Lewisburg in the 1980s, and thus, for nearly 40 years, Middle Tennessee heard the word of the gospel through the radio preaching of brother Billy Ashworth.
Many friends and fellow Christians have responded upon hearing of his death. Any who wishes to contact Lois may do so at 2148 Nashville Highway, Columbia, TN 38401. Typical of the many tributes received by E-mail was that of James P. Needham, who said, “I always appreciated him for his love for truth and willingness to stand in the face of great odds. His work in Middle TN will be long remembered and will bear fruit long after he has gone the way of all the earth.”
But perhaps the most eloquent tribute was that of brother Don Alexander of Sacramento, California, who wrote:
I was saddened, as were many other brethren, when I read of the passing of brother Billy Ashworth. I was a child in the 1950s, growing up in Middle Tennessee during a time of great preachers and great preaching, but also sadness and conflict over institutionalism. My family were members at Locust Street church of Christ in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, and my father served as an elder during those days, James A. (“Lonnie”) Alexander. Many wonderful preachers came to Locust Street both as located preachers as well as those who held gospel meetings. I remember these princes of God’s people very well, for they made an impression on a young boy and young Christian trying to do what was right. When my father and other men like brother Robert Jackson, brother Rufus Clifford, brother Martin Lemon, and others made a stand against unauthorized innovations in the work of the church, men like brother Billy Ashworth were right there. My parents loved him and always spoke highly of him.
Brother Ashworth I remember as a true Southern gentleman with a Christian demeanor. I also remember him, as I think back on him tonight, as the first preacher I had ever met who also had a job besides preaching, which made him a “part-time” preacher, I guess by today’s vernacular. He would often preach at Locust Street on an “appointment” basis, ate in our home, and enjoyed brotherly love. Through the years as I have tried to preach the gospel, usually while working a “secular” job in addition to preaching, I have thought of brother Ashworth, as well as Gilbert Tyler, another Middle Tennessee preacher who “worked” and preached. Though often not mentioned with the “full-time” preachers, these men did their work in an unassuming way for the good they could do without a lot of fanfare. I admired them then without fully understanding the reasons why, other than that they loved the Lord, his Word, and his people and quietly did their work. In fact, I believe men like them have influenced my life in ways I may not have fully known until I read of their passing.
Please stand and salute as another of God’s noblemen passes by and into eternity.” Don Alexander (DMAeagle @aol.com)
One of Billy’s favorite scriptures was Acts 27:25, where Paul said, “I believe God, that it shall turn out just as I have been told.” He lived in his life with firm belief in God, the surety of his promises, and his watchful care for his children, determined to tell others the old, old story. Let us follow his example.
A sobering addendum: I have often noted, in preaching and teaching my series on the history of efforts to restore New Testament Christianity in this country, that there are certain dates which symbolically demarcate the changing patterns from generation to generation. For instance, an 18-month period during 1940-1941 witnessed the deaths of J.D. Tant, Daniel Sommer, Joe Warlick, and F.B. Srygley — all old stalwarts who had become household names for several generations for their attempts to stand for truth and right and preach the whole counsel of God in the face of opposition and apostasy.
Within a decade of their passing, the churches were embroiled in a controversy, not unlike a similar controversy sixty years earlier in the 1890s, which swept many of them into a digressive boosterism totally unlike anything revealed in the New Testament. It is sobering to think, in a year gone by which has seen the passing of James R. Cope, Clinton Hamilton, H.E. Phillips, Billy Ashworth, and others, what the next two decades may hold as a younger generation rises up to replace those who, having fought the good fight, have finished their course.
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