Meet The Ayers

Jim Ayers – Founder


Jim Ayers grew up in rural West Tennessee in the town of Parsons and early on he was introduced by his parents to the rewards of an honest day of hard work. As he grew up to become one of the state’s most successful and admired businessmen, as well as a leading philanthropist, he never forgot the lessons he learned as a young boy. In fact, he has thrived on them.

Just as Ayers has remained in constant touch with his roots, so has FirstBank – the financial services company that he nurtured from a single branch in Scotts Hill, TN, into Tennessee’s largest independently owned and operated bank, with more than $4.9 billion in total assets and more than 40 locations.

FirstBank, is the third largest Tennessee-headquartered bank, based on total assets. FirstBank provides a comprehensive suite of commercial and consumer banking services to clients in select markets in Tennessee, North Alabama and North Georgia. Our footprint includes 56 full-service bank branches and 9 other banking locations serving the Tennessee metropolitan markets of Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Jackson and Huntsville (AL), in addition to 12 community markets.

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

Janet Ayers – President


Janet Ayers is a recognized business leader and philanthropist throughout the State of Tennessee, with over twenty years of experience in health care administration.

In 1987, Mrs. Ayers began her career in Health Care Administration at Four Oaks Health Care Center. After five years of service, she assumed the Administrator position at Erwin Health Care in Erwin, TN, a position she held for the next 15 years. She was an active member of the Tennessee Health Care Association (THCA) and received the Distinguished Professional Service Award and the Distinguished Association Service Award. She held multiple statewide positions at the organization, including President of THCA. She also served as a commissioner of Tennessee Health Facilities Commission for five years.

In addition to her health care interests, she is active in a number of civic, educational and charitable organizations. Mrs. Ayers is an active board member of Centerstone, Centerstone Research Institute, Abe’s Garden, The Ayers Foundation, Nashville Symphony, Unicoi County Economic Development Board, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville and United Way of Unicoi County. She and her husband are the shared recipients of the Association of Fundraising Professionals ’2007 Philanthropists of the Year Award.

In 2007, Mrs. Ayers became the President of The Ayers Foundation. The Ayers Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of Tennessee with a special emphasis on Decatur, Henderson, Perry and Unicoi Counties. The Foundation believes this is best accomplished by providing grants for scholarships, counselors, programs and related projects for educational enhancement, innovative health care and by supporting organizations dedicated to the preservation of our natural resources and wildlife habitats for hunting and fishing.

Mrs. Ayers received her bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration from East Tennessee State University in 1986.


“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring others over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. " Theologian Henri Nouwen