Robert L. Ayres, an internationally acclaimed political economist whose career spanned four decades in California and Washington, D.C., died on December 23 in Rockville, Maryland. He was 73.
The cause was pneumonia following complications from frontotemporal dementia.
Dr. Ayres began his career in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. He arrived in that tumultuous academic community on June 6, 1968 –the very day that one of his political inspirations, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, died from an assassin’s bullet in Los Angeles. While at Berkeley, Dr. Ayres taught and conducted research in Latin American politics and international political economy. He was also a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution; the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Santiago, Chile; and at the Torcuato di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Leaving California for Washington, D.C., in 1978, Dr. Ayres served as a senior fellow with the Overseas Development Council, where he directed a highly regarded project on U.S.-Mexico relations. From his base at the ODC, Dr. Ayres also conducted research leading to his widely cited book, Banking on the Poor: The World Bank and World Poverty, which traced the evolution of poverty-oriented policies under the leadership of World Bank President Robert McNamara from 1968 to 1981.
Dr. Ayres then joined the World Bank, where he spent nearly 20 years in a variety of senior advisory, research, and administrative positions. This work took him to 35 countries throughout the world. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Ayres coordinated an 18-nation task force on foreign aid, participated in writing the Bank’s 1990 World Development Report, and led a group that assessed the first 50 years of the Bank’s operations. He drafted that team’s final report, The World Bank Group: Learning from the Past, Embracing the Future.
For many years at the World Bank, Dr. Ayres coordinated a worldwide group of finance and development ministers that advised the Bank on policy priorities. He later directed the Task Force on Reform of the State in Latin America and the Caribbean, during which time he authored studies on antipoverty policy, as well as on crime and violence as development issues in the region.
Upon retiring from the World Bank in 2002, Dr. Ayres served as a senior fellow at The Center for Global Development, where he directed a project on U.S. policies toward “poorly performing” states. He later served as assistant vice president of international affairs at American University until 2006.
Dr. Ayres received his Ph.D. in political science with a minor in international economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As an undergraduate at Valparaiso University in Indiana, he majored in government and participated in American University’s Washington Semester Program.
Dr. Ayres was born on August 14, 1941 in Passaic, New Jersey. He is survived by his son, Kenneth, and wife Amy, of Gaithersburg, Maryland; daughter Rachel Reed, her husband Craig, and granddaughters Charlotte and Lorelei Reed of Austin, Texas; his father, John Ayres of Whiting, New Jersey; brother Tom and wife Anne Barrett of Burlington, Vermont; and brother Dean of Falmouth, Massachusetts. His mother, Helen (Faure), predeceased him in 2005.
During four decades as a teacher, scholar, and senior political economist, Robert Lewis Ayres established a reputation for intellectual vigor, creativity, and consensus building among people of very different perspectives on many highly controversial subjects. He combined compassion and wisdom with a razor-sharp, often irreverent sense of humor–all factors that made him a particularly effective and revered colleague.
A private service for immediate family members was held on Saturday, January 3, followed by interment at the Whiting Memorial Park in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A celebration of Bob’s life – full of the people, memories and music that shaped him and those who loved him – will be held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C., in April, when the cherry blossoms bloom in the city he called home for nearly 40 years.