Remembering beloved pediatrician Dr. William Ashbaugh
On a camping trip years ago, pediatrician William Ashbaugh fell asleep on a raft. The current dragged him further and further out to sea, until he could barely be seen from shore and was rescued by the Coast Guard, while he remained, still asleep, on the floating raft.
Ashbaugh’s son, the Rev. Bill Ashbaugh, recounted the story and said it was a fitting analogy to how his father peacefully drifted off and died in his sleep at the age of 90 on Sept. 10.
“Rescue came, this time, not from the Coast Guard but from God, who took him home, took him to a safe place,” he said.
Ashbaugh was a Butler native and beloved pediatrician who worked for decades in Butler County, serving generations of families and children who remember him as a kind doctor who often went above and beyond for his patients.
Commenting on his obituary, parents of former patients as well as former patients themselves — some into their 70s — remembered Ashbaugh for his help and bedside banner.
“Saving the kids, that’s what he did,” his son Bill said. “He would go down to the hospital, drive down with them to the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and stay up all night with a sick kid. That’s how he treated other people’s children and certainly his own children. He was a really loving dad, a kind father.”
His son described Ashbaugh as an optimist with a sense of humor and sharp wit who was loving and generous in spirit. He was also a bit of an eccentric. He wore “lots of funny hats” and loved “razzing people,” though his jokes were always made in good humor, and never at the expense of someone else, his son said.
He further likened his father to a “hobbit,” because Ashbaugh loved the wilderness and the natural world, including forests and bright green things. He was a gardener by pleasure, but upon retirement, he also trained professionally as a Master Gardener.
He was so passionate about his work that he would often take gardening calls at home after-hours.
He passed on his love of exploration and nature to his five children, who all grew up with scientific inclinations and were encouraged to engage with the world and explore, in one way or another, Bill Ashbaugh said.
He shared how one of his brothers, Tim, ran a marathon in Antarctica. Before his ordination in the Catholic Church, Rev. Ashbaugh studied to be a scientist.
“We were all encouraged to get out there in the world and love nature,” he said.
He said his father’s decision to practice medicine was partially inspired by Ashbaugh’s grandfather, who was a doctor.
“I think it runs in the family … he picked up on that just from his own grandpa,” Bill Ashbaugh said. “He was a sharp, bright guy. He liked to care for people and wanted to use his skills to help people.”
After graduating from medical school, Ashbaugh planned to join the military and run a hospital on an Indian reservation, his son said.
“He wanted to take care of the disadvantaged; that was just one of his characteristics,” he said.
But a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes rendered him ineligible to join the armed services.
Instead, Ashbaugh stayed in Butler County, where he practiced pediatrics for over 50 years. He married Patricia McNallen Ashbaugh, a nurse he met in the emergency room of Butler Memorial Hospital.
“To see his dedication in helping others, I saw how much care he gave, how dedicated he was and generous,” his son said. “He was one of the most generous persons I’ve known. Those are qualities I see in the priesthood. They’ve shaped my own attitudes about what life is about. Our life is meant to be of service to others.”