“Come Sept. 15, 2014, I would simply like people to say that the president of the General Assembly for the 68th session did make a difference, he did get things done,” Ashe said.
Colleagues and friends have described Ashe as disciplined and commanding, with a talent for making friends in settings where consensus is difficult.
“He was always a very particular guy,” said Errol Cort, a college friend and the minister of National Security, Immigration and Labor for Antigua and Barbuda.
“His bed needed to be made up in a particular way, and his sheets were always well prim and proper,” Cort remembers of the apartment they shared as undergrads at Canada’s St. Mary’s University in the late 1970s.
“That’s not to say he’s a prude,” said John, also a college friend who shares Cort’s view of Ashe. “We certainly had more than enough fun. He’s a guy who, if he’s backing you, you feel like you really have someone in your corner.”
In July, during a biannual U.N.-Caricom meeting, the Secretary-General called Ashe’s election a clear sign that the Caribbean Community’s profile at the U.N. was on the rise.
“He had been the ‘go-to person’ when discussions had broken down (during) the 2002 Summit for Social Development and the Rio+20 (climate change) negotiations,” Ban said.
Ashe’s arrival at the U.N. was a “happy accident.” He’d returned home to St. John’s after 11 uninterrupted years of university and after having earned a Ph.D. in bioengineering in 1989 from the University of Pennsylvania.
It was Lester Bird, a former prime minster and son of national hero Vere Bird, who called him into the foreign service.
“Without giving it much thought, I said yes, because I had seen (the job) as a gap year,” Ashe said.
Attending a U.N. meeting on climate change sold him on a career in diplomacy because of the prospects of applying his science background, even though he was “green to the politics.”
“One year led to another and another. So, med school is still on hold. It’s some time in the future,” he joked.
Over the past 25 years, Ashe has held leadership roles in more than 40 U.N. agencies and organizations, including as his country’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
Born in St. John’s to Arnold and Beryl Ashe, both deceased, John is one of seven siblings. He met his wife, environmentalist Anilla Cherian, at a U.N. conference in Nairobi, Kenya and the two married in New York.
“I would say she knows more about sustainable development than I do,” Ashe said of Cherian, who has consulted for a number of U.N. agencies.
Their sons, a 16- and 13-year-old, have an inkling of the importance of their dad’s new role, Ashe said. But the boys only joined him for the pomp and circumstance on one day — when President Barack Obama spoke on Tuesday.
“The older one is a huge fan of Obama,” Ashe said smiling.