From Cornelia Fortier
My good friend, Debra Thorburn Ashton, WGBH’s Director of Planned Giving from from 1978 to 1985, has died after a seven month battle with cancer.
I first met Deb at the end of 1979, when I interviewed for the major donors secretary position in WGBH’s fundraising department. Jeanne Brodeur, then head of fundraising, met with me first and then, Deb, who I would be working with, joined us. I remember thinking: Can this woman really be this upbeat? And, of course, the answer turned out to be: yes. Deb’s energy and outlook were as unflagging and enthusiastic as anyone I’ve ever met. Once we began to work together, I also found out about her wall-rattling super-charged laugh as well!
We stayed fast friends, even after we both moved on from WGBH. Deb left the station in 1985 to head up planned giving at Wheaton College and subsequently, was lured to Boston University in 1991, followed by a role as Director of Gift and Estate Planning at Boston College.
When Deb decided it was time to do things differently, she tapped her incredible energy, intelligence and experience and wrote the definitive planned giving “how to” manual for non-profits, first published in 1988. It was a major undertaking (pages: 568; weight: three pounds) but with it and with the earlier creation of her own consulting company, by 2000, she was fielding non-stop requests for seminars at non-profits around the country. Deb was now her own boss and worked as much as she wanted to.
In 2016, when Deb sold her Quincy house to live full-time at the Cape, she wound down her consulting. She continued to manage the distribution of her book, which was still selling.
Living at the Cape introduced Deb to new pleasures and hobbies: planning and overseeing the renovation of her house in Sandwich, designing her garden and landscaping, supporting (and adopting from) the Massachusetts Humane Society and meeting many new friends. Though her energy was now channelled in new directions, her enthusiasm – and joyfulness – remained as strong as it was 42 years earlier, when we first met.