Tom Ashley ’60 is at it again. He has another TV production in the works, and he’s excited about this one.
It’s about one of his longtime passions – architecture.
Ashley’s architectural interests were burnished among the notable buildings of his hometown Detroit. They’re rooted, too, in Rome, where he attended the Notre Dame International School as a high school sophomore. But nothing piqued his interest in architecture more than the Empire State Building.
“We took a boat back from Rome. As soon as I got off the boat I immediately took off to the top of the Empire State Building,” Ashley recalls of his 16-year-old self. “That’s what really kicked it into gear.”
Years later, in 2012, Ashley produced a one-hour documentary on the iconic building. It aired on several PBS outlets. Although he didn’t know it then, it was the catalyst for his current project, “Build It High,” a three-part documentary on skyscrapers.
If successful, “Build It High” will be the first segment in a new architectural TV series. It initially will air on the state-owned network of Italy. “After that, who knows?” Ashley says.
“I’d love to see the entire series come to fruition,” says Ashley, who is producing and directing the documentary.
Ashley has had a successful career in broadcasting. He headed Turner Broadcasting’s advertising sales division for 10 years, moving it from Atlanta to New York as the company grew. He also found fame as the creator of the “This Day In” vignettes that ran on TV from 1988 to 1995.
If Ashley has the Empire State Building to thank for his current project, he has the Notre Dame International School – once a Gilmour sister school – to thank for bringing him to Gilmour his junior year.
For Ashley, who long battled attention problems, the guidance of Br. Ivo, Vern Weber and Br. William was just what he needed. Under Weber’s direction, Ashley shined at the 440-meter in track, setting a school record.
“Whenever I return to Gilmour I take a lap around the track,” Ashley says. “I also go over to the bust of Br. Ivo and give him a pat on the head and thank him for somehow getting me into Georgetown.”
Where do you like to kill time in New York City?
I love walking up and down the Hudson River when the weather’s nice. They’ve redone the whole west side, and there are a couple places where you can stop for a drink.
What’s a good book?
Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. I don’t think (Jobs) would be my best friend, but I was amazed how one person’s will can change so much of what goes on in society today. So that book was truly amazing for me.
Who’s your favorite architect?
I’m a huge Frank Lloyd Wright fan. I just think he was such a perfectionist. Again, somebody I don’t think you’d have a lot of fun with, but I’m a huge fan of his work.
You’ve said your class, the Class of ’60, is a tight group.
Yes, thanks mainly to the care of Bill Crookston, we are kept in the loop of all of our members’ movements and whereabouts when known. There are about 39 out of 49 of us still lingering about and we all think it's still the late 1950s.
If I could do it all over again…
I would have held on to my Turner stock.