After building successful health care and real estate ventures, Ayers and a business partner bought Farmers State Bank in Scotts Hill in 1984. Two years later, after moving the home office to Lexington, TN and acquiring First National Bank of Lexington, Ayers changed the bank’s name to FirstBank and also became its sole owner. Since that time, the bank has grown tremendously, in terms of both assets and the impact it has had on the communities it serves.
Despite his enviable business successes across several industries, Ayers is perhaps most proud of his contributions to increasing educational opportunities for young people. In 1999, he established The Ayers Foundation, which supports a wide range of programs and institutions, with an emphasis on education in Henderson and Perry Counties, as well as his home county of Decatur. He also established and funded the Ayers Institute at Vanderbilt University, which conducts advanced cancer research, the Ayers Children’s Hospital in Jackson, TN and the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University.
In addition to his business interests, Jim is active in a number of civic, educational and charitable organizations. He is the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2007 Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the 2007 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Memphis, and in 2019 received the Horatio Alger Award.
Ayers was named a Leader in Banking Excellence by the Tennessee Bankers Association, and holds honorary doctorates from Freed-Hardeman University, Union University, Bethel University and University of Memphis.
A 1961 graduate of Parsons High School, Jim Ayers received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting from Memphis State University, becoming one of the first in his family to attend college.
A Letter From Our Founder
My parents knew the importance of a good education, so from the age of ten, it was drilled into me that I would go to college. But a dear friend in high school, a pupil much brighter and more committed to the love of learning than I, did not have the financial resources to continue an education beyond high school. This friend was forced to take a job that was neither intellectually stimulating nor well paid, while I was able to use my college degree to become financially successful in health care management and banking.
I thought about my friend often and contemplated the circumstances that led to my success, but not his. Because of the many blessings I have received, I determined I wanted to give back in some way. I decided what I could do to help was to guarantee that no child from my hometown of Parsons, Tennessee would be denied a college education due to lack of funds; The Ayers Foundation was born. In the decade since its inception, through financial assistance and guidance counseling, The Ayers Foundation has awarded over 3,000 scholarships.
Am I proud of the work the foundation has done? Of course, but I still feel I am receiving more than I am giving back. I don’t know why I have been so successful in my life’s work, but I do know that being able to give back – to help young people get an education, to assist adults who want to go back to school, to allow children to receive excellent medical attention, and now, to have the potential to save 60,000 lives each year through early detection of rectalcolon cancer – has given me more satisfaction and pure joy than anything else I can imagine doing with my life.
- Jim Ayers