William Hanes Ayres
Private, United States Army
Member of Congress
a contemporary press report:
William H. Ayres, 84, a 10-term Republican congressman from Ohio who defeated every Democratic challenger in his heavily unionized district until 1970, died of heart and kidney ailments December 27, 2000 at Vantage House retirement home in Columbia, Maryland.
When he left office, Representative Ayres was the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the minority leader of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Representative Ayres's political undoing was not strictly a matter of union efforts, although it was not for lack of trying by the AFL-CIO. Although Representative Ayres was a moderate, his party affiliation became a liability when Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University in 1970. John Seiberling Jr., a Democrat, took Representative Ayres's seat in 1971.
During his years in the House, Representative Ayres, a former small-business man whose district included Akron, aligned himself with the rank-and-file laborer. He frequently was critical of union leaders.
In an interview in 1999, he said that one of his favorite accomplishments was sitting on the House-Senate conference committee that passed what became the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act to rout out union corruption. "It started out as an investigation of the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa," Representative Ayres said. "It was the best thing to happen to us [at election time] to have him against us."
Still, as a member of a minority party for all but his first few years in office, Representative Ayres had to follow a moderate path. "All through my 20 years, I had to more or less play down the Republicanism in my district," he told an interviewer in 1978.
An Army veteran of World War II and a fixture on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Representative Ayres worked on veterans matters even after he left public office. In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon tapped him to lobby Congress on behalf of the Jobs for Veterans program in the Department of Labor -- a job he did for four years.
In the 1970s, Representative Ayres also worked as a consultant to persuade veterans groups to support Republicans during elections, but he turned down President-elect Ronald Reagan's offer in 1980 to run the Veterans Administration. "I declined because I was worn out, and the VA is more of an administrative job," he said in 1999.
William Hanes Ayres was born in Eagle Rock, Virginia. His father was a Methodist preacher, and the family moved around before settling in Lorain County, Ohio. Representative Ayres graduated in 1936 from what was then Western Reserve University with a bachelor's degree in political science.
He worked as a salesman for a heating equipment
company, and after the war, he became president of Ayres Heating &
Insulation Co. in Akron. He ran for office in 1950 after receiving positive
publicity for challenging East Ohio Gas Co.'s restrictions
On occasion, his job in Akron could be politically
helpful. Just before the election of 1962, a friend got him a copy of the
AFL-CIO's plan detailing the issues on which it planned to unseat him.
At a hearing, he was prepared for a question by his
"Oh, yes, those are the questions suggested on Page 12," he told his astonished challenger. "Well, everybody seems to agree that federal aid to education is a bad deal for our area, where schools have such fine homegrown financing."
In a 1999 interview with The Washington Post, he said that a friend attending a union meeting in Cincinnati had given him a copy of the AFL-CIO's plan. Representative Ayres said of his friend, "I had put a furnace in for him years ago."
Representative Ayres's wife of 61 years, Mary Helen Coventry Ayres, died in 1999.
Survivors include two daughters, Virginia Mount
Ayres of Alexandria and Judith Ayres Burke of Sebastopol, Calif.; a sister;
and two grandchildren. A son, Frank H., died
William Ayres, ex-congressman, dies
A strong advocate for veterans, he was the only
Republican to win 14th District re-election. He was 84
William Hanes Ayres, an Akron Republican who won election to Congress 10 times in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, died Wednesday in Columbia, Maryland. He was 84.
From 1951 to 1971, Mr. Ayres represented the Akron area as a champion of veterans issues and as a tireless campaigner. He was the only Republican ever to win re-election in the 14th District.
Born in Virginia in 1916 to a Methodist minister and a missionary nurse, Mr. Ayres grew up in West Virginia and rural Lorain and Richland counties.
He joined the Army 19 days after World War II ended and served just 88 days before being discharged. But he campaigned as a veteran and was a leading voice in Congress on veterans issues.
Before he was elected to Congress, he founded William H. Ayres Inc., which sold gas furnaces, and hired 15 men to work for him -- all World War II veterans.
In 1947, he took on the East Ohio Gas Co.,
challenging a gas company rule that prohibited independent contractors
from converting older homes to gas heat. He put a gas furnace in his own
home, then filed for a court order to prohibit the gas company
That battle got the attention of Ohio's "Mr. Republican,'' Robert Taft Sr., who recruited him to run for the 14th District, which then included Summit, Medina, Portage and Lorain counties.
"If Daddy put on a good fight, he would make people aware that there were Republicans in the district, and then the next time they would run someone who could actually win,'' said his daughter, Virginia Mount Ayres. "But Daddy wasn't someone who would run to lose.''
Mr. Ayres' campaign tactics were unconventional.
He took out newspaper ads asking people to write him telling what they
wanted in a congressman. He stood with a tape recorder outside rubber-factory
gates to interview workers about their concerns.
He surprised everyone when he beat the incumbent, Walter Huber, by 2,000 votes. He was just 34.
Though he rose to become the ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee, Democrats controlled the House during his 20 years in Congress.
Mr. Ayres was known for having a highly efficient district office and for being a nonstop campaigner. His slogan was "Ayres Cares,'' and he prided himself on excellent constituent service.
"Every weekend, he was at the Polish picnic and the Hungarian picnic and the Kiwanis,'' said daughter Virginia, who now lives in Arlington, Virginia. "Those are my memories of childhood.''
A chain-smoking master of self-promotion, he handed out souvenir balloons, combs and matchbooks with his name on them on the streets of downtown Akron.
And he knew the power of pictures, even if it meant having to cross party lines. Once, he had his picture taken at the White House riding a tricycle he had given to Caroline Kennedy.
He won re-election nine times, often against tough challengers. He beat the late Oliver Ocasek, a highly popular state senator, twice. He even hung on during big Democratic gains in 1958 and the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964.
Mr. Ayres finally met his match in 1970, running against John Seiberling, a lawyer for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and grandson of the company's founder.
A month later, embattled Vice President Spiro Agnew headlined a $50-a-plate "testimonial dinner'' for Mr. Ayres at the Mayflower Hotel -- an event that Mr. Ayres recalled fondly for the rest of his life.
He later admitted that he had underestimated the effect of the Kent State shootings on the 1970 campaign. He had tried to portray Seiberling as a hippie by using a picture of him with long-haired students at the University of Akron. The tactic backfired.
Years after his defeat, Mr. Ayres summed up his political philosophy this way: ``I was people-oriented. Most of the fellows today are issue-oriented. They're trying to save the world, while I was trying to save a paycheck.''
Mr. Ayres went on to work in the Nixon administration, running the Jobs for Veterans program. He also served as a consultant for Washington-area companies and the Republican National Committee.
In 1980, he headed Veterans for Reagan, and the president-elect rewarded him by making him head of his transition team for the Veterans Administration. With support from Senator Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and major veterans groups, Mr. Ayres was onsidered to have the inside track to head the VA.
But his candidacy for that job was derailed by some who thought he was "too close'' to veterans, and who favored a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee from New York. They used his lack of a war record against him.
Mr. Ayres had lived in a retirement community in suburban Washington for many years, and died of heart and renal disease.
He was a founding member of the Fairlawn Community Church, now known as the Fairlawn-West United Church of Christ.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary
Helen Coventry Ayres, last year, and a son, Frank,
a former special assistant to President Nixon, in 1991. In addition to
Virginia Mount Ayres, he leaves another daughter, Judith Ayres Burke, of
He will be buried January 4 at the Arlington
National Cemetery, following a 10 a.m. graveside service.
Courtesy of the Congress of the United States:
AYRES, William Hanes, a Representative from
Ohio; born in Eagle Rock, Botetourt
AYRES, The Honorable WILLIAM H.
On Wednesday, December 27, 2000, former Congressman
(R-Ohio), beloved husband of the late Mary Helen Coventry Ayres; father
of Virginia Mount Ayres and Judith Ayres Burke; grandfather of Tamara Mount
and Coventry Burke. Funeral services will be held at Ft. Myer Old Post
Chapel, Thursday, January 4, at 10 a.m., with interment to follow at Arlington
National Cemetery. Reception at Ft. Myer Officers' Club. Memorial contributions
may be made to Hospice of Howard County, 5537 Twin Knolls Rd., #433, Columbia,
MD 21045, or Fairlawn-West United Church, 2095 West Market St., Akron,
AYRES, MARY HELEN COVENTRY
On Friday, December 17, 1999. Beloved wife
of former Congressman William H. Ayres (R - Ohio); mother of Virginia Mount
Ayres and Judith Ayres Burke; grandmother of Tamara Mount and Coventry
Burke. Funeral services will be held at Fort Myer Old Post Chapel, Tuesday,
December 28 at 2 p.m., with interment to follow at Arlington National Cemetery.
At 4 p.m. friends will gather at Chevy Chase Country Club, 6100 Connecticut
Ave., NW. Memorial contributions may be made to Recording for the Blind
& Dyslexic, 5225 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20015; or the American
Chestnut Land Trust, PO Box 204, Port Republic, MD 20676.
Ayres, Mary Helen
Born December 8, 1915
Died December 17, 1999
Residence: Columbia, Maryland
Section 30, Grave 435-RH
Buried December 18, 1999
Ayres, Frank Hanes
Born October 22, 1940
Died June 27, 1991
Lieutenant, United States Navy
Residence: Bethesda, Maryland,
Section 30, Grave 435-RH
Buried September 25, 1991
Posted: 30 December 2000 Updated: 28 July 2001 Updated: 17 November 2001 Updated: 11 July 2003 Updated: 23 April 2006
Photos By M. R. Patterson, 28 June 2003