Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Focus on Philanthropy: Professor Florence Helen Ashby and Laird B. Anderson

by Jessica Pollack

“My very positive experience at Florida State and how accepted and welcomed I felt here gave me the feeling that Florida State was my home. My husband and I never had children, but we always considered FSU our family. We have always been thankful to feel so close to the school and the people we encountered here and wanted to contribute so that others could feel that connection, too.”

- Florence Ashby


Alumni couple Florence Ashby (B.M.E. '57) and Laird Anderson (B.S. '58) long considered Florida State University to be their family, but Florence in particular has been as important in FSU’s story as has FSU is in hers. Florence is a founding member of a half dozen organizations and a contributor and supporter of countless more. And for every organization, fund, and student she helps, she has endless joyful stories to share of how the FSU community thrives across the country and in her life. 

Florence’s first experience at FSU was attending Summer Music Camps in high school. With engineering programs closed to women at other universities, she found her place as a double major in math and clarinet performance at the College of Music. She joined 75 freshmen and only about a dozen upperclassmen in Manley Whitcomb’s reimagined and intense marching band. She can regale listeners with tales of their first away game at the University of Miami and how their success as a 3-week-old band resulted in the now-beloved mantra that the Marching Chiefs have never lost a half-time show. In between her five seasons with the Chiefs, she also founded (and was elected as the first president for) Tau Beta Sigma, helped organize band parades, decorated homecoming floats played in concert bands and combo bands, recruited band members, and still earned impeccable grades in her 5-credit math courses.

After another graduate degree in math and a brief period at IBM, Florence spent her career as a Professor of Math at Montgomery College near Washington, D.C. There, she helped found the Washington D.C. FSU alumni club and also connected with her to-be husband, Laird. Laird had been a member of FSU’s national and international championship-winning gymnastics teams, and initially met Florence through Kappa Kappa Psi – the counterpart to Florence’s sorority (which she also helped found). Laird graduated from FSU’s political science and international studies programs and became a Professor of Journalism and decorated army veteran. Though they met during undergraduate studies, it wasn’t until their time with the alumni club that they bonded over their mutual love of Florida State. Laird told Florence he had been to every football game and never missed a chance to see the beautiful gold kick-pleats in the band’s skirted uniforms. As they both enjoyed FSU’s spirit, educational support, and lasting friendships, Florence and Laird worked hard to share those opportunities with other students and faculty throughout their lives. 

Together they have sponsored scholarships, chairs, and programming across departments, while also dedicating volunteer time on committees encouraging others to do the same. Florence has served on the University Musical Associates Executive Committee and FSU Foundation Board of Trustees. She continues to advise Tau Beta Sigma and is a lifetime member of the Marching Chiefs Alumni Board, to name just a few. She also helped found Women for FSU, and helps donors connect with current students and programs through their Backstage Pass Program, even creating a Zoom version amidst social distancing. 

The compassion of Florence and Laird is evident across campus, but especially at the College of Music. Florence is generously funding a refurbishment of the Opperman Music Hall mezzanine. She also funded a wind orchestra commission – composed by Jonathan Newmann – dedicated to Laird’s memory, and continues to support woodwind student scholarships through an endowment. Florence continues to be a dedicated patron and enthusiast, and she may be seen singing along to the Marching Chiefs, attending journalism lectures she and Laird established, or sending welcome packages to College of Music administration and staff. In Dodd Hall on a sunlit afternoon, visitors enjoy the rich colors of a stained-glass window Florence commissioned to honor the joy and community she and countless others have found with the Marching Chiefs. There, an enduring part of music legacy, a young clarinetist marches alongside her friends, sporting the classic gold kick pleat Laird admired.