In Memoriam: Joe Asch ’79

Editor’s Note: Edited and compiled by Daniel M. Bring. The obituary written by the Dartmouth Review will be followed by several written statements dedicated to the memory of Joe Asch from his brother, staffers at the Dartmouth Review, and a professor at Dartmouth. Thank you to Dartblog for allowing us to reprint many of these statements that were published one their site, and to the authors of them.
Joe Asch ’79, of Hanover, NH, passed away on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018, at the age of 60. He is survived by his parents, Bob and Rosie, his brothers, Peter and Richard, his children, Henry and Tory, and his wife, Elizabeth. His sister Kate predeceased him. He was memorialized by friends and family in an open service on October 13th at the Dartmouth Outing Club House on Occom Pond.
Originally from Montreal, Quebec, he spoke fluent French in addition to Italian. At Dartmouth, he put his language skills to good use as a Rassias drill instructor, while also excelling in his major of History. A member of the Dartmouth Class of 1979, he attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1983. He worked for Bain & Company for a few years before setting out with his entrepreneurial ambitions.
After operating a successful medical supply company in France, Joe bought and renovated the River Valley Club in Lebanon, NH, in 1998. Co-owning and managing the club with his wife, it quickly became one of the most successful health clubs in New Hampshire. In 2004, Joe returned with his family from France to settle in Hanover. That same year he met a freshman, Joe Malchow, who founded the Dartmouth-focused blog Dartblog.com.
After Joe Malchow graduated in 2008, Joe Asch took over the website and transformed it into a hub of investigative reporting and insightful criticism of Dartmouth College and its administration. For the last ten years, Joe ran Dartblog illustriously, earning praise from alumni and current students alike, and at times, drawing the ire of administrators. He was known for his cutting-edge, in-depth reporting about happenings at the College on the Hill.
Joe was a tremendous friend and constructive critic of The Dartmouth Review and a wholehearted supporter of all the students of the College. With Dartblog, he kept the administration on its toes. He gave from his wallet and time to assist students as a drill instructor and by funding a writing skills tutoring program. His tireless dedication to Dartmouth made him a model alumnus and an individual who will be dearly missed.
Joseph C. Asch (1957–2018)
Requiescat in pace.
In lieu of flowers, his family have asked that donations be made to the Dartmouth Outing Club or the Political Economy Project in his honor.

Joe, we hardly knew ye….
From Pete Asch, Joe’s younger brother
Much has been written about Joe. The words that I believe captured Joe’s essence were written by the Chabad Rabbi, Moshe Gray in the Dartblog. “Joe was unapologetically honest, and if you couldn’t reciprocate, you weren’t his friend for very long”.
From the days I began to know him (50+ years ago), Joe was different and was forthright to a fault. He mixed this honesty with deep intellectual curiosity, a longing to find the truth, and an ability to explain the truth as he saw it with an unusually strong grasp and command of the English language. After Joe graduated Yale Law, he challenged me to prove 2 + 2 = 4. Joe said, “I can prove to you 2 + 2 equals 5”. By this time I was in my early twenties and decided that discretion was the better part of valor and declined the debate, mostly because I knew Joe would be relentless until I acquiesced!
Unlike many intellectuals, Joe also had an entrepreneurial streak that caused him to ACT on his thoughts. An opportunity was not just something to ponder and intellectualize, Joe had to DO something about it. This entrepreneurial gift in Joe caused him to build and create, always seeking to improve and do so with an exactness and perfection that came deep within his belief system. Joe’s curiosity also took him to places all over the globe and he relished learning and improving, and was relentless in his quest to understand cultures.
Most of us trade our absolute beliefs for a larger amount of peace and contentedness, an often essential compromise we accept as a consequence of a complicated world, one filled with a diverse range of people and a multitude of opinion. Joe was a complicated man and his thirst for exactness and accuracy transcended everything he did. Joe wanted the best of everything and he fought for this value his entire life. He had extremely strong opinions, and our beliefs were often at odds. Nonetheless, he taught me a lot about ambition, exactness, the wonder of travel and the highest of standards. Joe was additionally a generous person and would have people over to his home in Hanover or in Paris on a frequent basis, either to stay for dinner or simply to stay over, often for days at a time or even weeks. This generosity is well documented in people’s tributes in the Dartblog.
It seemed fitting that on the day of Joe’s Memorial, there would be a double rainbow for a few brief moments, and Joe’s family would be driving by. A coincidence? A sign? Who is to say or opine with certitude over such things. We simply happened to be driving by after a heartfelt and loving tribute to Joe, his life and his accomplishments.
The gift of Dartmouth was truly on display at the Memorial – the quality of the people, the thoughtfulness and the wisdom in their words, the generosity of spirit in their actions and the tenderness and caring in everyone’s words. Something about a rainbow gives us a deep sense of joy. A rainbow over the Dartmouth green after my Brother’s service, greater joy. Indeed, life does happen, both for good and for ill.
To My Brother Joe, I learned many things from you. You were a fighter and a maverick and you plowed your own path through all obstacles. This single mindedness took you far in the world you so dearly loved but you found so unsatisfying. Hopefully now in the after-life you have found true happiness, satisfaction and contentment.
I truly wish this for you.
Joe Asch – Rest in Peace.
From Jack F. Mourouzis ’18, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus:
Originally Published on Dartblog on October 18th, 2018
My first correspondence with Joe was during my sophomore fall at Dartmouth. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was visiting some friends in Paris. Given my flexible time and my friends’ preoccupation with school, I was left with a few free days on my own to explore the city. On a whim, I decided to reach out to Joe via email. Up until that point, I had been a casual yet loyal reader of Dartblog, enjoying his pessimistic-yet-hopeful musings on the College’s many troubled facets. I’ll admit, I was certainly intimidated; it seemed out of place for a lowly sophomore to reach out to such a distinguished and successful alumnus. Regardless, I invited him to meet for coffee for a discussion on the state of affairs at the College. He graciously invited me into his home in the heart of Paris’ beautiful 16th Arrondissement; he introduced me to his family and his African grey parrot – an impressive bird who, in many ways, reflected many aspects of Joe himself – and we sat down for a glass of wine and some test appetizers Elizabeth was preparing in anticipation of the upcoming Thanksgiving feast. After a while, we moved on to a fantastic bistro just across the block where we enjoyed a fantastic French menu. When I pulled out my wallet to pay, he waved it away and leaned in, saying to me: “Don’t pay me back. I tell everyone I meet with, pay it forward to another undergrad one day.”
Since then, Joe and I corresponded regularly on topics ranging from our mutual love for the City of Light to incessant ranting about Phil Hanlon’s direction of Dartmouth. Joe mentored me in writing throughout the rest of my Dartmouth career, and after I became Editor-in-Chief of The Dartmouth Review, he would help us coordinate news campaigns to help bring about meaningful change at the College, and would even occasionally stop by our office to meet with the staff as we worked. He offered me heartfelt career advice and encouraged me to do whatever I can to get out and see the world. He always spoke passionately about his business endeavors; I will never again meet someone who could so passionately and eruditely speak about running a fitness center, regulations on child care centers, and needle manufacturing. But, of course, the topics were unlimited given the breadth of his knowledge and wealth of experience. And – most important of all – he did it with a pep in his step and a fiery love of gelato.
African grey parrots are certainly not the most attractive of avians; their dull, disheveled appearance pales in comparison to many other species in the order Psittaciformes. Rather, the bird is well-known and popular due to its intelligence and vocal nature. I found Joe’s choice of this bird as his pet quite appropriate. With his razor-sharp intellect and passionate vocalization, and to the best of his ability, Joe ran his flagship in the perpetual fight to preserve the dignity and reputation of Dartmouth College – an institution he loved with all his heart. He never backed down, even when his opinions were not always popular with the masses. I can only hope that the world comes to know many more men like Joe, who fight for their convictions and for their success with a fiery passion and who enjoy purely the world and all the fine things it has to offer. In my mind, I will forever remember Joe as a beloved man, with a beloved bird, who would do anything for his beloved institution.
From Professor Andrew Samwick:

Originally Published on Dartblog on October 15th, 2018
When my dad passed away a few years ago, I was having trouble coming to terms with the sadness and grief that I felt every day. In the end, the only tactic that worked for me was to take a moment every time I missed him to say the following:
“It is not his absence from my life that I am feeling. I am feeling his presence in my life.”
I admit that this is more helpful than it is true. But when a close bond is torn apart, I’ll use any tactic that works. So in that spirit, I’d like to share some things about Joe’s presence in my life.
If I had to say it in just one word, I would tell you that Joe lived “generously.” I confess – in a phrase that would either amuse or disgust Joe – I had “Joe Asch privilege.” For reasons still not fully clear to me, and probably to many of my faculty colleagues as well, Joe would write nice things about me and my work. And that privilege let me in on a little treasure: If Joe liked you, anything he had he wanted to share with you. I’ll give you four examples that bring me joy as I remember and celebrate Joe.
Example number one: he’d share food and wine. We were on a number of occasions guests in Joe and Elizabeth’s home, both in Hanover and in Paris. The food was exceptional. The wine was even better. The conversation rich and varied. But, best of all, was the feeling that in Joe you had a true friend, a fellow traveler whatever the path in life you were taking. I will remember and celebrate Joe for his hospitality.
Example number two: he’d share his passions. In this case, the River Valley Club. I’m not much of a gym rat, but ever since our mutual friend Rick Mills got lean and healthy through personal training sessions at RVC, Joe was after me to do the same. He offered me some free sessions. I said, “Joe, thank you, that’s very kind of you. But how could I possibly stay in this kind of shape if I exercised?” But he was relentless, and I eventually took him up on his offer, at least for a while this spring. I enjoyed meeting some of the people who worked there and seeing the great fitness results for members of our community. You can see Joe’s influence on the RVC, but you can also see the individual contributions of everyone who makes it a great place to work and to exercise. Maybe I’ll be back one of these days, and I will remember and celebrate Joe for how much of himself he put into his work, there and elsewhere.
Example number three: he shared his time. Joe loved to immerse himself in the life of the College. He often attended public events at the Rockefeller Center. And he would frequently audit classes. In the summer of 2014, he sat in on a new class on Social Entrepreneurship that I offered. He contributed his wisdom and experience and offered himself as a resource to the students. At the end of the term, I got some helpful and critical feedback. And, of course, some Morano gelato. Those of use on the faculty who cherished him did so because he made the effort to understand us in our element. And, of course, that invited reciprocity, and with it, a lasting friendship that I remember and celebrate today.
Example number four: he shared his opinion. He would do this in any venue, but we know him best from his online writing. I tried blogging actively for a while. Notionally, I still have a blog. But I was never a voracious blogger like Joe. And yes I have a day job, but so did Joe. At least one. Joe’s writing was a combination of three qualities I enjoyed very much about him – a burning desire to know more, about basically everything; a very agile and aggressive mind; and the lowest tolerance for muddled thinking I have ever encountered in another human being. And that’s saying something. He had a lawyer’s ability to cross-examine; a consultant’s facility with data; and a philosopher’s attention to the big picture questions.
He would want to engage – any subject, any time. But Dartmouth held a very special place in his heart and our conversations. What I as a senior and visible member of the faculty was expected to do about anything he found wanting at Dartmouth was a frequent topic of our conversations. He wanted me to do the same thing he was doing – desiring the best for Dartmouth and holding those running the institution we love accountable for their decisions. I tried my best, in my own way, but I suspect I disappointed him. He once said to me, “I’ll bet you wish I’d stop throwing bombs.” To which I could only reply, “No, but I sometimes wish you had better aim.”
It is evident from all of Joe’s life that he admired excellence and celebrated it wherever he could. And the notion that Dartmouth might settle for anything less was simply galling. I think it is noteworthy that many of his best posed questions about Dartmouth have gone publicly unanswered to this day. We would be a better institution if we had more forthrightly engaged with his critiques. I think that sentiment is widely if not publicly understood on campus. A friend asked me this week, in response to this awful tragedy, “How the heck is anybody going to know what’s going on at Dartmouth now?” How indeed.
That’s the presence that Joe was in my life. I was privileged to be a friend to such a generous soul. I will miss him dearly, but I am grateful for the time we had together.
From Brian Chen ’17:
Originally Published on Dartblog on October 15th, 2018
Joe was a mentor and a friend to me. His first love was Dartmouth, but he always had a soft spot for his other alma mater, the Yale Law School. He once confided in me that while he hadn’t sent Dartmouth a dime in years, he tossed a few thousand dollars in the direction of 127 Wall Street on a regular basis.
It’s fitting that Joe’s two final posts were about the Yale Law School, because I wouldn’t be here were it not for him. And that’s not hyperbole.
I was a very confused Dartmouth student, as evidenced by the fact that I was pre-med for two whole years. Joe gave me direction when it really counted. Like any good Yalie, one of his first acts of guidance was to disabuse me of the notion that Harvard was a good law school. All kidding aside, in telling me his own story, he opened this path to me. It’s one that I never would have thought about pursuing on my own. (Seriously, I didn’t know that the Yale Law School was a thing, and that people who didn’t want to do law went here.)
Joe was a force of nature in the best sense. This is someone who convinced Mitt Romney to give him a second chance, and then went on to prove his first impression wrong. No matter how bleak things looked, Joe never gave up on Dartmouth, and he never would have. To tell you the truth, I think he was better than Dartmouth deserved.
When I was admitted to the Yale Law School in December 2017, Joe had the good grace to telephone and warmly congratulate me—and to say that he had absolutely zero confidence in my chances and was thus pleasantly surprised. That’s just Joe for you. I’ll miss him dearly.
From Daniel M. Bring ’21:
This is the last piece in this section, which I have had the distinct honor to compile and the grave misfortune to have had to. I didn’t think I could write it until all the other parts were assembled. I struggle still to look back on such a tragic loss, but I figured I would do my best to eulogize a great man, gone all too soon.
When I heard of Joe’s passing, I was out to lunch with a professor and some colleagues. In all my lengthier conversations with him about the College, Joe had always stressed the importance of meaningful relationships with professors. I’ve taken that advice to heart and always tried to build a rapport with my professors across the departments.
When the news reached me, even while I was taking his advice, I was beside myself. It was so baffling and shocking. I started up from the table to go call the mutual friend who had introduced me to Joe, to confirm the reports, which I had only gotten over text message.
I had seen Joe so recently at that point. It was a brisk and sunny Tuesday, and only nine days had passed since I joined Joe at Market Table for Sunday brunch. I couldn’t believe that such a dynamic and inspiring man had so suddenly vanished from the earth. There are questions still unanswered, and I will not belabor them now by begging them onto this page. Nevertheless, his passing cast a dark shadow over the weeks to come, not just for me, but for everyone who knew Joe. I want to think that even those who didn’t know him or didn’t even know of him, were somehow moved by his passing. The impact of his absence will surely be felt by the students, alumni, and employees of the College.
Joe had that rare energy that only history’s prime movers seem to demonstrate. His passion was immediately recognizable. He had a ferocious tongue and quick wit, which served him as the best and most vociferous defender of the College since Daniel Webster. He possessed a real force of personality, rivaling, at least in my mind, that of a pugnacious Harvard man named Theodore Roosevelt. Like Roosevelt, Joe’s candle burned brightly and unfortunately quickly.
I was Joe’s youngest friend at the College at the time of his passing, having been introduced to him late last academic year. I did some work for him over the summer and into this fall, conducting research for Dartblog and even writing a short piece which ran on the site. His addendum to one of our emails, “BTW you are a good writer!”, will stick with me as one of the highest compliments I ever received. It was a far cry from the comment he left on one of my Week in Review posts last fall, challenging me to dig deeper into the topic. I expected to maintain a lasting friendship with him, like many Dartmouth students who got to know him before me. His passing showed me never to take anyone for granted.
Joe pushed me to reach for new heights with my writing and journalism. Once when I was working on some research for Dartblog, he pressed me never to take no for an answer dealing with Ivy League administrators. It seemed he was never at a loss for enthusiasm or inspiration when editing Dartblog. He was always full of ideas to improve The Review and Dartmouth. When he passed, I had assignments from him on the docket to last me into November.
So, in the days since his passing, I’ve had much time to reflect on my all-too-brief friendship with him. I’m fortunate to have known him and gotten to see a bit of what made him such a remarkable person. However, the importance of his last words to me can never be understated and should be shared with the whole community: “Keep well.”
Joe taught me to search for answers and speak truth to power, even if it means being a voice crying out in the wilderness. That’s a lesson more valuable than any other I’ve learned at Dartmouth so far.
Joe, you are missed.