It has been a few years since I last published a “Neighbors To Know” story, and I have never done one posthumously, so it is with sadness that I do so now with this piece on William (Bill) Ayres. In full disclosure, Bill has been not only a true “neighbor” on my block, but close friend, mentor and adopted family member for 26 years now. Bill passed away peacefully, albeit unexpectedly on Thursday August 4th after a short illness. It seemed an unfitting end to such an amazing and exemplary life.
Bill was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1935. He was one of six children with a single mother trying to survive in a Post-Depression era. Education was important to Bill and he was able to secure a full scholarship to Texas A&M as an ROTC cadet, a program that then required he go into some branch of active duty post-graduation. After completing his B.S. in Business in 1957, he fulfilled that obligation by joining the Air Force, finding himself for the first time out of his beloved state of Texas, completing his service in Kansas City, Mo. Bill was a Captain at the time of his discharge.
While serving, Bill married a hometown girl from San Antonio, Eleanor. Their first child, Mark was born before his discharge. Shortly after, they moved back to Dallas where Bill began his professional life in sales, a career that would follow him the rest of his life. Their second child, daughter Michelle arrived in Dallas. Bill was one of only a couple thousand present at the Trade Mart in Dallas, waiting on the Kennedy motorcade and appearance that never came on 11/23/63. He never forgot the impact of that day.
The young Ayres family made a couple more short moves before settling in Wichita, KS In 1967. Bill and Eleanor would end their union in 1974. The following year changed Bill’s trajectory and brought him to Southern California for work. Although Texas and his alma mater of the A&M Aggies would always hold the top place in his heart, he never returned to live there. He combined his business acumen, great personality, love of engineering and gadgetry, going into the sales profession for the Scaffolding industry. Years later, he started his own supply and consult business, W.T. Ayres & Associates that was based in Seal Beach.
As an early member (1975) of the Scaffold and Access Industry Association, he earned numerous awards and accolades and established himself as a leader in the industry both domestically and internationally. He served as their President from 1988-90, and founded the SAIA Educational Foundation. The New Membership Recruitment Award is now named for Bill due to his wins year after year, further honoring his legacy. He was highly loved and respected in the industry and will be sorely missed as they meet in two weeks for their 50th anniversary meeting.
Bill made a move to California in 1975. He was living in Arcadia when he met a young school teacher, Gail, who hailed from the little known town of Seal Beach. Bill and Gail were married in 1986 after a five year courtship and have resided at their Central Avenue home since that time. The Ayres built their lives as a cornerstone of the Seal Beach community. They have been pillars of friendship, guidance and service to Seal Beach for the past 36 years.
Bill was a natural runner and in the early origins of organized events he was involved with the, at that time, Long Beach Running Club, which held periodic local races. Somehow their events made their way to Seal Beach where they became a City managed program under Parks and Rec for a few years. After collaborating and helping the City with the events, he realized it would be better managed privately. He established the Seal Beach 5/10K Non-profit and the City happily turned over the annual program to his capable hands.
In the days prior to the Internet, he grew the attendance of the race to almost 1,000 participants annually through word of mouth and mailers. In 2002, the event went “Virtual” with its first website and from there it grew and grew to a cap of 6,000 participants at its height. He added a “Kids Fun Run” component to make the event more family friendly, and saw the advent of the move from its original course on the Navy Base to the course that is run today. In 2003, he established a Grant program to give net profits back to local organizations for the purpose of recreation. He retired from the race in 2010.
Bill’s honors did not end with his business. His outstanding contributions to the Seal Beach community earned him the “Seal Beach Citizen of Year” in 2010, followed by his induction to the exclusive Cypress College Americana Awards Recipient in 2011. Bill was a “Civic Activist”, not only because his back door opens onto City Hall, but because he cared deeply about preserving Seal Beach and its charm. He was a regular speaker at Council Meetings and was active in local committees like parking advisory.
Bill loved the outdoors and residents could see him running or bicycling around town or on the bike trail often. Most days he could be found tending his lawn, gardens and lemon tree. He loved to golf, a game he took up only after he retired. He tried to play three times a week, always striving to improve. He was known to all his friends as the consummate “Prankster”, but did not take well to any jokes played on him, especially if they involved his A&M Aggies which he considered sacred.
Bill and Gail loved to travel, and did so extensively for both work and pleasure. They traveled to China, Russia, Europe, North Africa, and many U.S. cities and Canada trips as well. He loved fishing and went to Alaska for over 31 years with friends and his son to fish each summer. His neighbors and friends were always lucky to receive some of his fresh catch each year, and he would have a block “Fish Fry” shortly after his return each summer to share the bounty.
Bill was diagnosed over 25 years ago with CLL, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. He lived each day mindful of his fight, and was one of the longest surviving known persons living with the disease according to the City of Hope. It was not, however, the ultimate cause of his passing, but certainly a contributory factor for a man who fought to the end.
Bill is survived by wife Gail, brother Jim (Texas), his son Mark (Kansas) and his daughter Michelle (Illinois) as well as six grand- and three great-grandchildren. His ashes will be interned at Texas A&M. There is no information currently available on a service.
Even in closing this story, I find it hard to think I have properly covered the enormity and the example that was the life of William T. Ayres. He will be missed by everyone around the world and in this community who have been fortunate enough to be in the orbit of his stalwart integrity, generosity and friendship.
God speed, Aggie Bill. I hope you are shooting par and taping your Aggie ring wherever you are.