Ayres was Sewanee's 13th vice-chancellor
Robert M. Ayres Jr., C'49, H'74, who died June 19 in Austin, Texas, was the University’s 13th vice-chancellor, serving in that role from 1977 to 1988. It is almost impossible to overstate the influence Ayres and his wife, Pat, had on the University of the South, the Sewanee community, and the Cumberland Plateau. For years after he left office, his successors continued to call on him for guidance, counsel, and inspiration.
San Antonio native Robert Moss Ayres Jr. graduated with a degree in economics from the University of the South in 1949, with a career in business as his professional objective. Following a year at Oxford University, he earned an MBA in 1952 from Wharton School of Finance of the University of Pennsylvania and began his investment career before returning to Texas to weave the fabric of professional, civic, and church activities which was to mark him a community leader.
He married Patricia Shield in 1955; for more than 60 years, this remarkable couple were known for their diligence, faithfulness, and generosity, and for nurturing values of service and stewardship in others. The Ayres’s children are Sewanee alumni as well—son Robert A. (Bob) Ayres and his wife Margaret (Margy) are both C’80, and daughter Vera Ayres Bowen is C'83.
Ayres held significant posts at parish and diocesan levels, and in the 1970s, he left his business career behind to serve the Episcopal Church by assisting Presiding Bishop John Allin with the worldwide Venture in Mission program.
Bob Ayres served Sewanee in various capacities for more than 50 years, beginning as a Trustee and a Regent in the 1960s and ‘70s, and as president of the Associated Alumni in 1968 and 1969. He was awarded an honorary degree from Sewanee in 1974. In 1977, Ayres was asked by his fellow Regents to serve as acting vice-chancellor. A year later, Ayres agreed to become the University’s 13th vice-chancellor and held that position until 1988, leading the University through a challenging financial time.
His leadership during a time of fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s and his continued generous support of the institution make Ayres considered one of the “modern founders” of the University of the South. During his vice-chancellorship, the University erased a $1.2 million deficit and more than tripled its endowment.
Enjoy this brief slideshow remembering Bob Ayres at Sewanee.
In 2011, the St. Mary’s Sewanee Board of Trustees announced the naming of its new campus—the Ayres Center for Spiritual Development—in honor of Bob and Pat Ayres; he continued to serve as vice president of the St. Mary’s Sewanee Board of Trustees. Over 30 years, the Ayres Center for Spiritual Development has built numerous programs to meet the needs of individuals and groups looking for rest, renewal, and reconnection.
In 2016, the University of the South named its newest residence hall “Ayres Hall” in recognition of the many contributions Bob and Pat Ayres made to the University and the Sewanee community. During the dedication ceremony, John McCardell, the University’s 16th vice-chancellor, said, “With the naming of Ayres Hall, the University recognizes not only Pat and Bob’s extraordinary contributions to Sewanee, but also their dedication to the Episcopal Church’s ministry in education and their lifelong efforts to create a caring and compassionate society.”
A memorial service for Bob Ayres will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 28, at Christ Episcopal Church in San Antonio, with a reception to follow in the parish hall. A memorial service in Sewanee is being planned for the fall.
You may see the full obituary for Bob Ayres or sign the virtual guestbook here.