Brown Ayres (’53)

Category: Accomplished Alumni | Awards

For Brown Ayres (’53), the connection to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, runs deep. In addition to being an alumnus, he is the oldest living grandson of UT’s 12th president, also named Brown Ayres, for whom UT’s iconic Ayres Hall is named. Ayres, who was recently recognized with an Accomplished Alumni Award during a celebration of his 90th birthday, was an investment banker with the family’s Cumberland Securities Company and spent eight years as a Tennessee state senator. Friends and colleagues lauded him at the event as an effective lawmaker whose persistence can be seen in his efforts during the 2010 renovation of Ayres Hall.

During the renovation, new clocks were placed on each of the four faces of the tower. Ayres was instrumental in creating an endowment for the clocks that were named the “Katie Anderson Ayres Memorial Clocks and Carillon Chimes” in honor of the wife of President Ayres. He also succeeded in correcting a misspelling that had existed since 1921. When the building was first constructed, a plaque made by the Chicago Ornamental Iron Works was installed and erroneously spelled the family name as “Ayers.” Today the family name is spelled correctly.
“After all those years, he got it done,” said Duane Wiles, UT’s associate vice chancellor of alumni affairs, in presenting Ayres with the Accomplished Alumni Award. “We are grateful for what you’ve done for UT and for our students. We applaud the example you have set for the university, the state, and beyond. You have brought great pride to our university, and for that we thank you.”

During his time in Tennessee’s senate, Ayres completed numerous significant legislative accomplishments, including redefining the utilities districts around Knoxville to spur the expansion of hundreds of homes and subdivisions. He also reformed the Industrial Development Board Act to spur economic development, repealed Tennessee’s “bone dry” laws, increased access to low-cost student loans, and passed legislation to help grow the commercial airline industry.
Victor Ashe, former mayor of Knoxville and ambassador to Poland, spoke during the celebration of Ayres’s “persistence and diligence” as a legislator.
“He was making things happen each year in terms of passing legislation, and he passed a number of bills that have had lasting impact on Knox County and the city of Knoxville,” Ashe said. “It wasn’t as partisan in those days, and lawmakers judged legislation on its merits, not on the political identification of the sponsor.”

Ayres was joined in the celebration by his brothers, children, and grandchildren, and the event was organized by his son, Ed Ayres of Houston, Texas. “He’s run a good race, and we love you, Dad,” Ed said at the celebration. “We’re very blessed to have you in our lives and you did a great job of supporting this community over the years.”
Ed then turned the microphone over to JoAnn Coffman, Ayres’s partner with whom he shares his life in retirement. The couple met during childhood in a ballroom dancing school.

“I’ve known Brown since I was 13 years old, and that’s a long time because we’re both 90 now,” Coffman said. “He’s been my friend all those years. He’s my best friend.