"She's enthusiastic and has the interests of the children at heart," says Yvette Glacken, head of Spencer junior school, St Albans, where Baroness Ashton chaired the governors until this week - and where her son and daughter are educated.
After Upholland grammar school in Wigan, Lancashire, and a degree from Bedford College, London, Cathy Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament before becoming one of the pioneers of business in the community.
"She's practical idealist," says Julia Cleverdon, chief of Business in the Community, where Ashton was head of public affairs from 1983 to 1989. "She brought a very community tinge to the collection of pinstripes thinking about what business should do - made sure it was a bottom-up activity."
Lady Ashton, 45, chaired East and North Hertfordshire Health Authority from 1998, a post she has now relinquished.
Married to political journalist Peter Kellner, she lists her hobbies in Who's Who as "swimming, theatre and retail therapy". Is she, then, a smart dresser? "Extremely," says Mrs Glacken firmly.