Holt Ashley was born January 10, 1923, in San Francisco. His father Harold had served in World War I and was a prominent businessman by the time World War II broke out. Nonetheless, he reenlisted. The younger Ashley felt intense guilt that it was his father and not he who was serving and took leave from the California Institute of Technology, where he had been a sophomore, to join the Army Air Corps. After training at the University of Chicago where he earned his undergraduate degree in meteorology, he served in the war as a weather forecaster and reconnaissance officer flying with squadrons over the North Atlantic and Europe. The experience spawned his first paper “Icing in North West Europe” and earned him six military medals. Professor Ashley was 6 feet 8 inches tall, a height that prevented his acceptance as a pilot during World War II. Shortly after joining Stanford in 1967, he achieved his dream by obtaining his pilot’s license.
After earning his master’s degree (1948) and doctoral degree (1951) in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Holt Ashley rose through the faculty ranks at MIT to become associate professor in 1954 and full professor in 1960.
In 1964 he helped establish the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India, and served as the first head of the department. He taught there during the very first year of the institute, wrote a classic book, and inspired a generation of young Indian engineers. He maintained good relations with his former students and colleagues in the decades after leaving the department. One of the young Indian engineers whom he inspired was his colleague in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Professor Sanjiva Lele, who was a graduate of ITT Kanpur and the department that Holt Ashley helped to found.
Ashley returned to his native California in 1967 to join Stanford University as a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. His students remember him as a patient mentor whose door was always open and whose meticulous lectures were models of clarity. He was extremely supportive of minority students, including African Americans,