A chapter of service closes

Published 8:36 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Short Rows Header

The last of the Dashiell brothers has died, and with his passing ends two very long generations of service to the Smithfield and Isle of Wight community.

Colonel John C. Dashiell learned little more than a month ago that he had terminal cancer. Within a couple of weeks of receiving that news, he was dead.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Colonel Dashiell — Jack to virtually all who knew him — was a career Army officer who had a lifelong desire to be an artist and, following an extraordinary military career, indulged that love of art until his death. He became a master carver of waterfowl and, at the peak of his work, turned out at least three ducks a month in his picturesque little shop overlooking the Pagan River. The site, it’s worth noting, is a residential lot carved from his family’s farm, Moonefield, just a few hundred yards from where he was born.

Jack became known from South Carolina to Maryland for the quality of his work. Here in Smithfield, he contributed birds every year to the local Ducks Unlimited auction, and was thus responsible for sending thousands of dollars to that international waterfowl conservation program.

He was a patron of the arts and a consistent supporter of local art and museum activities. Soon after returning home to Smithfield in the 1980s, he carved a set of birds representing every duck known to inhabit the Pagan River during a given year. He donated the entire set to the Isle of Wight Museum where they remain, an important visual reminder of this town’s ties to the Pagan River.

But Jack Dashiell’s contribution was largely to his country. He was barely old enough to join the Army at the close of World War II, then was placed on active reserve and, during that period, earned his bachelor in fine arts degree from William and Mary. He was called to active duty for the Korean War and was seriously wounded on Pork Chop Hill only weeks before the armistice was signed. His wounds troubled him until his death, but he rarely complained.

He remained in the Army and during Vietnam was awarded two Silver Stars, a singular achievement in military circles.

But Jack Dashiell should also be remembered in the larger context of his family, which has always held an important place in the life of Smithfield. His brother Harry, who died seven years ago, had his own history in the military and as a career intelligence service member. He retired and returned to Smithfield before Jack did, and devoted himself here to his work as an indefatigable Christian Outreach volunteer and a colorful member of Town Council.

Jack and Harry’s mother was Segar Cofer (Sig) Dashiell, the much-revered local historian who catalogued Smithfield’s founding and early families. She played a significant role in preserving the old courthouse on Main Street and was its unofficial caretaker and keeper of the keys for many years. Beyond all that, Sig’s quick wit and occasionally acerbic comments are still fondly remembered by all who loved her.

And then there was Jack and Harry’s father, who served for many years as a member and chairman of the Board of Supervisors. That was back in the days before the county had administrators or even county staff, and when supervisors ran the county.

And if you choose to dip back even further into Sig’s family, you will find a string of Cofers who played prominent roles in the town for well over a century.

It’s a huge family history and a remarkable legacy to this town, and Jack Dashiell’s death closes an important chapter of it.