Ashton J. (Ash) O'Donnell, a summer resident of the Sawtooth Valley since 1968, died July 28, 2010, in San Rafael, Calif. Ash grew up in Helena, Mont., a true son of the West and proud member of the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers. On a camping trip through the Northwest in 1968, scouting for land, Ash, his wife Gini, and their daughters Lynn and Jennifer were flooded out of their campground near Cape Horn and stayed for a week at the Armada Motel in Stanley while the tent dried out. By the time they left, they had sealed a deal with realtor Cookie Lamb and landowner Jack Furey at Trigger Jim's Lodge in Obsidian and were owners of a parcel of the old Shaw ranch above Fisher Creek. Ash, Gini and the extended O'Donnell family have spent part of each year since at their Sawtooth Valley home.
Ash was born April 7, 1921, and was married for 66 years to his beloved wife Virginia (Gini) Graham O'Donnell. The couple met at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and married in 1943. During WWII, Ash worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and later with the Atomic Energy Commission in Richland, Wash., and San Francisco. A supporter of the Atoms for Peace program, he joined Stanford Research Institute (SRI International) in Menlo Park, Calif., as manager of nuclear economics in 1954. In 1955, he attended the First U.N. International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, and in 1957 he participated in the first U.S.--Japan Joint Atomic Industrial Forum Conference on Peaceful Nuclear Energy and toured 17 countries to study their nuclear energy programs. In 1961, Ash was named Senior Scientific Advisor to Ambassador Henry D. Smyth of the US Mission to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, where he also served as President of the Board of the American International School. He joined Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco in 1964 as head of scientific development and retired in 1986 as president of Bechtel National Inc. and vice president and director of the Bechtel Group.
In retirement Ash served as a member of Whitman College's Board of Overseers and member and chair of the Board of Trustees. In 2002 he and Gini established the Ashton J. and Virginia Graham O'Donnell Chair in Global Studies, spearheading the development of Whitman's acclaimed Global Studies Initiative, which brings to campus international experts in fields from diplomacy to science and the arts. In 1997, Whitman gave Ash an Honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Ashton will be remembered as a storyteller, a man of wisdom, integrity, intellectual passion, and Irish wit and charm—and for his love and advocacy for the Idaho wilderness. Ash is survived by his wife, Gini, of San Rafael; daughters Sherry Burns of Cupertino, Calif.; Joan O'Donnell of Santa Fe, N.M. and Cambridge, Mass.; and Jennifer Conner of San Rafael; grandchildren Colleen Burns Uhran (John), Maximilian O'Donnell Halus; Nora Wilkinson; and Allison, Bobby, and Lulu Conner; great-grandchild Jackson Uhran; sons-in-law Robert Burns, Lawrence Wilkinson, and Kenneth Conner; and family and friends around the world. He was predeceased by his daughter Lynn. The family will hold private celebrations of Ash's life in California and Idaho. Contributions may be made to the O'Donnell Global Studies Chair, Whitman College, 345 Boyer Avenue, Walla Walla, Wash. 99362 (www.whitman.edu/giving) or the Sawtooth Society, P.O. Box 209, Stanley, Idaho 83278.