Colonel James Earle Ash had a distinguished 31-year career as a pathologist in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and from the 1920s until his retirement in 1947 helped create a foundation of excellence for today's Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
His remarkable accomplishments included two terms as curator of the Army Medical Museum and one term as the first director of the Army Institute of Pathology.
He helped elevate the museum and institute to a position of prominence in the world of pathology, modernizing the institute's system for collection and review of unusual cases, developing a series of atlases that led to growth of subspecialties of pathology, and helping to inspire scores of military and civilian pathologists during their careers.
Ash was born on Sept. 8, 1884 in Philadelphia. In 1905 he obtained his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He received advanced training for six years at Philadelphia-area hospitals, where he developed his interest in the field of pathology. Ash later studied in Vienna, Austria before returning to the United States in 1913 to teach for three years at Harvard University Medical School.
While at Harvard, Ash became interested in tropical diseases and in 1916 accepted a commission in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army. He served in the Philippines and subsequent expertise in tropical medicine helped lead to reactivation of the Army Medical Research Board and publication of a report on sanitary conditions in the Bataan penninsula, later utilized for planning purposes by the U.S. Army.
Col. Ash, first director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, at his desk in 1942Ash used his position as 15th curator of the Army Medical Museum from 1929 to 1931 and later as 20th curator from 1937 to 1946, to develop slide study sets, syllabuses, atlases, and fascicles as teaching tools. He also helped establish and expand pathology registries and to specialize a number of fields of pathology. During World War II, he developed the Army Medical Museum into a center of excellence for military and civilian pathologists, and his efforts did much to advance cooperation between the two groups. Ash finished his military career in 1947 as the first director of a new facility that would be known as the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. As a tribute to Ash when he retired, an entire issue of "The Military Surgeon" was devoted to his career, and included a foreward from Surgeon General of the Army, Maj. Gen. Norman T. Kirk, attesting to Ash's "diligence, foresight, professional knowledge, and undeterred devotion to duty..."
He continued on as the first scientific director of the American Registry of Pathology from 1947 to 1949, and later served as chief of pathology for 12 years at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. In all, Ash spent 73 years devoted to the field of pathology. He died at the age of 101 on March 24, 1986 at his home in Bethesda.