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April 21, 2020

Meet Volunteer Ashton S.

I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA many moons ago. At 15, I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA on an early admission scholarship. After graduation, I served three years in the US Navy, then went to graduate school at Atlanta University for a Masters in math before heading to New York City in 1963 to see what all the fuss was about. My plan was to stay two years. That was nearly 60 years ago.

After a year in Citibank’s training program (as their first black management trainee), I was assigned to work as part of the team that automated their European branches in the 1960s. I was one of their first black bank officers. In 1969, I was asked to go to Nassau, Bahamas for a year as their Office Manager to help sort out operational problems in the branch.

Later, in 1979, I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of NY and Irving Trust Bank. Because of my experience in automating Citibank’s European branches, I was assigned to London, England for a year as a member of the team that automated Irving’s London branch. In 1987, I joined an operations analysis unit of the Fire Department of NY (FDNY), where I worked until retirement in 2002.

All of my life, I have felt that it is important to give back to society. So, as early as the 1970s, I began to volunteer in various organizations. While at Citibank, I tutored students in reading and math in the city’s public schools after work. I volunteered at the Hudson Guild in the 1970s, working with seniors. I also did recordings for the blind. In the 1980s, I spent a year in Atlanta pursuing real estate opportunities, volunteering at a local nursing home, and teaching math in a local high school.

I started volunteering at WNET in the 1980s, give or take a few years, as one of the volunteers answering the phones during their live TV pledge fundraisers. I have since worked at both the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center and at the Worldwide Plaza administrative offices. When I am not at WNET, I volunteer at the senior center in my apartment complex in Chelsea and at Selis Manor reading to blind and visually impaired people.

If there was no PBS, I am not sure that I would own a TV. It is because of my appreciation for the high quality of programming that PBS offers that I support it with my money and my body. My favorite shows are the British imports: the mysteries, the period dramas… pretty much everything PBS brings to us from across the pond.

Music is the great passion in my life. I am a self-taught piano player. My repertoire is largely the American Songbook, songs from Broadway and Hollywood back in the last century. Occasionally, I even play and sing in public (usually at my favorite New York City hangout, Arturo’s Restaurant down in the Village).

I also enjoy traveling. I have traveled in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. I speak a bit of French, and thus have been to France and Belgium many, many times. My French is also handy when I go to Montreal’s annual jazz festival and to visit friends who have emigrated there from Morocco.

Otherwise, I try to enjoy life, as best I can, and to behave myself.

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