Longtime Wichita businessman Pat Ayars died Wednesday morning following complications from cancer.
“He was an eternal optimist, so regardless of how awful he might have felt, he put a smile on his face,” said Coryanne Graham, marketing and brand manager at Oxford Senior Living, which Mr. Ayars co-founded in 2010.
“This is something that Pat has been dealing with for a number of months and had no reason to believe it wasn’t going to come to a good conclusion,” Graham said.
“He’d say … ‘I’m going to get better. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do that.’ ”
Mr. Ayars, who would have turned 56 on Friday, was Oxford’s president.
“In recent months, Pat had positioned the company to transition his responsibilities so that his vision for Oxford would continue long after he was gone,” chief operating officer Jason Wiley said in a statement.
“He ensured this company would never hinge on just one person, but no one could ever fill his shoes fully. Pat was a tremendous motivator and visionary.”
Wiley’s statement also said, “Our deepest sympathies go out to Pat’s wife, Vergia, his children and grandson.”
David Harris, president and CEO at RelianzBank, said he visited Mr. Ayars in the hospital over the weekend.
“As passionately as Pat lived his life, you know, he was just not a person to be down,” Harris said. “He was in as good of spirits as he possibly could.”
The two shared a love of Nebraska football and knew each other professionally in addition to personally.
“He was a very decisive person,” Harris said. “He knew the path that things should go whether everybody else agreed or not.”
Mr. Ayars, a Nebraska native, came to Wichita in 1998 to work for Key Construction. After years as the public face of the company, he lost his position as vice president in January 2010 – a move that he said sprang from philosophical differences.
“Pat was a hard charging individual who also was very compassionate,” said Slawson Cos. broker Jerry Jones via e-mail.
“He lent a helping hand to untold numbers of people in need. He was a world class marketer who had great influence in the way Wichita has developed over the past 15 years. He will be sorely missed.”
Graham, too, said, “Pat had tremendous impact on this community.”
An emotional Kevass Harding said he knew that impact personally.
“He helped me walk through the process of building the Ken-Mar property at 13th and Oliver,” said Harding, lead pastor at Dellrose United Methodist Church, which is at 14th and Oliver.
“There was not a grocery store in this neighborhood for over 20 years, and through his support and his encouragement, I called Wal-Mart every Monday for six months, and now we have a grocery store.”
Harding said his vision and passion became shared goals with Mr. Ayars.
“We began to dream and believe together,” he said. “He just had a passion to see people succeed and be successful.”
Harding said he could call Mr. Ayars at any time and while he was with him, “He would get calls and mentor someone else or help someone else.”
Mr. Ayars had a competitive side, too, Harding said.
“He was such a competitor that if you outfished him, he would move the boat.”
Fishing, hunting and the Cornhuskers were all important to Mr. Ayars, his friends say.
Funeral services are pending.
Harding said he, too, saw Mr. Ayars over the weekend.
“We went from laughing to a straight-serious conversation,” he said.
Mr. Ayars asked Harding to do his eulogy.
“I was humbled and said, ‘Yes, sir,’ ” Harding said.
“He said, ‘You make sure it’s full of joy and laughter and good memories.’ So I have my marching orders.”