In Memoriam: Robert Moss Ayres, Jr.

Robert Moss Ayres, Jr.

September 1, 1926 – June 19, 2018

Robert Moss Ayres, Jr. died peacefully in Austin, Texas on June 19, 2018, surrounded by family and supported by countless friends.

Robert (Bob) Moss Ayres, Jr. was born in San Antonio, Texas on September 1, 1926, the oldest of the four children of Robert Moss Ayres and Florence Collett Ayres, and the grandson of Atlee B. and Olive Ayres of San Antonio. He grew up in San Antonio, where he attended San Antonio Academy and Texas Military Institute (TMI). In 1944, at age seventeen, he graduated from TMI and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy. A year later, he was in the South Pacific, serving as radio operator on a ship sailing toward Japan. He was at his station in the radio room when his ship received news of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender of Japan.

In 1947, Ayres enrolled in the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. An economics major, he graduated from Sewanee in 1949, and pursued graduate studies in England at the University of Oxford. From Oxford, he moved to Philadelphia, where he earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1952. Ayres began his investment banking career in Philadelphia and New York with Kidder Peabody & Co., one of the oldest firms in the country. During these years, he received a commission in the Naval Reserve, and served during the Korean War.

Ayres returned to San Antonio in 1953. On September 10, 1955 he married Patricia Shield, also of San Antonio. Soon after, they had two children, Robert Atlee Ayres and Vera Patricia Ayres. In 1960, after the unexpected death of his sister Ann and her husband Raymond Clarke, he became legal guardian to their three young daughters, Patricia, Margaret, and Florence; and he assumed a special and important role in their lives.

Ayres worked in the municipal bond department at Russ and Company, a local investment banking firm, and later served as its president. As an investment banker, Ayres had the opportunity to finance a number of successful Texas companies. He was one of the founders of Southwest Airlines, and raised the initial capital for its beginning. He also served on the board of directors of James Avery and Howell Corporation and enjoyed decades-long friendships with their founders. During these years, Ayres was a member of the Young President’s Organization. He served as President of the German Club, and was a member of the Order of the Alamo and the Texas Cavaliers.

Ayres became an effective leader in education, religion, and philanthropy. A lifelong Episcopalian, he served on the Vestry and as Senior Warden of Christ Episcopal Church. He was active in Diocesan affairs, and served as a member of the Executive Board of the Diocese of West Texas. Later, he served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and as a member of the board of Episcopal Relief and Development. He traveled to Africa, Latin America, and Asia to see firsthand the suffering caused by natural and manmade disasters, and to support the Church’s relief and development efforts. He was inducted into the American Society of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.

Ayres held an abiding devotion to the schools that had nurtured him in his formative years, especially TMI and Sewanee. He served as president of the Board of Trustees at TMI. At Sewanee, he served as a trustee, as president of the Alumni Association, and two terms as chair of the Board of Regents. For his service, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from TMI and in 1974, Sewanee recognized his service with an honorary Doctor of Civil Law.

In 1977, Ayres received a call from the University of the South to serve as its interim Vice-Chancellor and President. He led Sewanee out of a serious fiscal crisis, and the following year he became the 13th Vice-Chancellor and President of the University. He served in this role until his retirement in 1988. Through careful management and success in fundraising, the University’s endowment more than tripled during his tenure. Pat, too, shared her many gifts with the community, and together they made an indelible mark on the history of the University of the South and in the lives of generations of Sewanee students, faculty, staff and community members. In 2016, a new dormitory, Ayres Hall, was named in their honor.

During his time as Vice-Chancellor, Ayres became close friends with the Sisters of St. Mary, an Episcopal monastic order which arrived in Sewanee in 1888 to establish a school for mountain children, and eventually a retreat center. When the Sisters decided to sell their land, Ayres bought the property personally and created a non-profit corporation for the continuation of their ministry of spiritual formation. Long after he had stepped down from other boards and involvements, and until his death, Bob continued to serve on St. Mary’s board and to raise funds for their capital campaign. In honor of his role as founder, benefactor, and fundraiser, the center was named St. Mary’s Sewanee: The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development. In 2011, in recognition of a lifetime of generous service, the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest awarded Ayres his second honorary degree.

Upon his retirement from Sewanee, Bob and Pat moved to Austin to live closer to their children and grandchildren. Ayres enjoyed spending time at the family’s ranches in Travis, Real, and Jeff Davis Counties. He participated in the operation and management of the ranches, and supported the next generations of the family as they developed the Shield Ranch Foundation and El Ranchito Summer Camp at their Travis County ranch. He also continued his service as treasurer of the Shield-Ayres Foundation, which Bob and Pat created in the 1970’s as a way for future generations of their family to participate in their engaged philanthropy.

Robert Moss Ayres, Jr. is preceded in death by his sister Ann Clarke, his brother-in-law Raymond Clarke, and his sister-in-law Nanette Wright Ayres. He is survived by his wife of sixty-three years Patricia Shield Ayres; his brother George C. Ayres, and his sister Florence (Bitsy) Rubsamen and her husband Rollins; his son Robert A. Ayres and his wife Margaret; his daughter Vera Ayres Bowen; his grandchildren Kathleen P. Ayres, Elizabeth Ayres Domenech and her husband Chema, Marshall A. Bowen and his wife Madison, Gentry S. Bowen and his fiancée Margaret, Sophie Bowen Rupp and her husband Johann, and Mallory Ann Bowen; seven nieces and nephews, and eighteen great-nieces and great-nephews.

Robert M. Ayres, Jr. will be buried at Shield Ranch in Travis County at a private family service. A memorial service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church in San Antonio on June 28th at 11:00 a.m. with a reception following in the parish hall.

Bob’s family extends special thanks to J. Trice Boswell, the staff at Querencia, and the caregivers from Halcyon Home Health who cared for him so beautifully toward the end of his life.

In lieu of flowers, gifts in Bob’s honor may be made to the Robert M. Ayres Jr. Scholarship Fund at the University of the South, St. Mary’s Sewanee: The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development, or the charity of your choice.


We learn in the Retreating

How vast an one

Was recently among us—

A Perished Sun


Endear in the departure

How doubly more

Than all the Golden Presence

It was—before—

– Emily Dickinson