Visitors to Town Hall in Dewey Beach are lucky to be greeted by the smiling and eager-to-help face of Ashleigh Hudson.
As town clerk and Freedom of Information Act coordinator, Hudson brings a genuine kindness and concern for others to her busy municipal responsibilities.
“I watched a video on YouTube years ago called ‘If We Could See Inside Others’ Hearts’ by the Cleveland Clinic,” Hudson said. “I have always been easygoing, but after watching this video, I was touched and inspired to always be even more patient and empathetic with individuals when they are not being kind or seem to have anger or sadness in their heart.”
On the bulletin board above her desk, Hudson displays a quote by Jane Goodall that reads, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
“You never know what an individual may be going through, and you can use your interaction with them as an opportunity to help them, or even to be the smile on their face,” she said. “You may be the brightest part of that person’s day for the smallest act or word of kindness. It’s worth it.”
Dewey Beach Town Hall is small, so Hudson juggles many responsibilities, all with her disarming smile. She live-streams council meetings, sells licenses and permits, responds to Freedom of Information Act requests, serves as webmaster and notary public, and much more.
On Sept. 27, she was named Delaware Municipal Clerk of the Year by the Delaware League of Local Governments and the Delaware Municipal Clerk Association.
“I take great pride in my dedication to the town and surrounding communities,” she said. “I will continue to be eternally grateful for the recognition I received for my work. I am sure every other nominee was equally deserving, so to be the one selected means a lot to me.”
Born and raised in Sussex County, Hudson is a Sussex Central High grad. Her father’s family owned the old Stokes Hotel on Brooklyn Avenue and First Street in Rehoboth; her mother grew up on a Millsboro farm. She now lives outside Lewes with boyfriend Dan Sander.
“We both enjoy fishing, so we get to spend time together and both get to do what we love,” she smiled. “It’s not a one-sided hobby.”
Hudson is a serious angler. In August, she fished Ocean City’s Poor Girls Open, a women-only billfish release tournament benefiting breast cancer research through the American Cancer Society, and was one of only two anglers on board who caught a roughly 60-pound tuna.
She’s caught sailfish and snook in Florida, where she also snagged two large tarpon.
“It took me an hour and a half to reel the first one in,” she said. “He was bigger than me! The other one, I got right to the boat, and a sea turtle snatched it away. You’re not allowed to take them out of the water down there, so I could only look at him. I thought about jumping in with him, but there was a hammerhead shark close by.”
Hudson’s love of travel has taken her all over Florida, the Keys and the islands. She once flew to Las Vegas, then drove to Reno, then San Francisco, and down the California coast before flying back. She’s in Nashville this week.
Her appreciation for Florida’s ecosystem led her to draft a 2018 resolution she sent to lawmakers along the East Coast opposing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ practice of releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee Watershed and St. Lucie Estuary to lower the lake level after rains.
“I saw on the news about wildlife perishing because of high-release flows that contained toxic algae and killed seagrass and marine life,” she said. “Seeing the manatees perish pulled at my heartstrings, and I knew the devastation could spread to our ecosystem. The released water traveled to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Hudson said she visited the area afterward and saw a huge difference. “They’re not doing as many high-release flows,” she said. “It helps animals, and less algae was cutting the oxygen in the water.”
Hudson’s involvement in scholarship pageants occurred as a natural extension of her willingness to help others. A good friend was competing in Miss Delaware, so she helped her prepare.
“Before I knew it, I was competing, too,” she said.
Hudson was crowned Miss Southern Delaware in 2008 and Miss Delaware Valley in 2009. Since then, she has volunteered as executive director of the Miss Delaware organization, a Miss America preliminary, and for Miss Southern Delaware and Miss Dewey Beach pageants.
“I enjoyed competing, but I like directing even more,” she said. “I enjoy watching the contestants’ confidence levels grow. It’s a system that boosts confidence and makes you become more involved in the community and aware of current events.”
Hudson is known for organizing donation drives to help people near and far. She collects gifts for Cape district students and overseas military personnel every Christmas. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey two years ago and Hurricane Florence last year prompted her to not only collect items, but to personally drive them to collection sites and food banks in Tennessee and North Carolina for distribution to those in need.
“As soon as I send an email out, I get responses right away with people wanting to help,” she said. “I’m physically capable of helping those in need and blessed to live in a community that is very generous. It’s the least I could do as an American citizen.”
Above all, Hudson cherishes her time with family.
“Life does get busy with work and extracurricular activities, but I enjoy spending as much time as possible with both my and Dan’s family,” she said.
“I am blessed to have grown up in an amazing, supportive, close-knit family, and now have Dan and his wonderful family to add to mine. I wouldn’t be able to do as much as I have without such an amazing, supportive group of friends and co-workers.”