December 11, 2018

Carly Buggy
484-385-2934 (office)
[email protected]

Tennessee Banking Executive James W. Ayers to Receive to Receive 2019 Horatio Alger Award

Horatio Alger Association names 13 outstanding individuals, each of whom has overcome adversity to achieve professional and personal success, to its New Member Class of 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 11, 2018) – Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, today announced that James W. Ayers, executive chairman of the board, FirstBank, has been selected for membership in this prestigious organization. Mr. Ayers joins 12 other exceptional business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving the 2019 honors. For more than 70 years, the Horatio Alger Award has been annually bestowed upon esteemed individuals who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable endeavors throughout their lives.

Mr. Ayers was born in rural Tennessee to a family that was income-dependent upon the success of their family’s saw mill. Early in life, he learned the value of hard work through his first job, shining shoes, at age eight. In addition to contributing what money he could from shining shoes, Mr. Ayers also assisted his father and uncle on their saw mill. Though work was a priority during his childhood, Mr. Ayers believed that education was the springboard to success. Enrolling in nearby Memphis State University, he paid tuition by running a newspaper route and working night shifts at both a local dairy farm and a hotel.

After graduating from college in 1965 with a degree in accounting, Mr. Ayers explored different careers in his early professional life. In 1984, with the help of a partner, Mr. Ayers purchased Farmers State Bank and four years later bought the National Bank of Lexington, which would become FirstBank. After becoming the bank’s sole owner, Mr. Ayers expanded the enterprise from Tennessee into Georgia and Alabama. After 32 years of private ownership, FirstBank (NYSE: FBK) made Tennessee banking history in 2016, when its initial public offering closed at $128.5 million. Mr. Ayers remains the executive chairman of the company, which today stands as the third-largest Tennessee-based bank, with assets of approximately $5 billion and nearly 56 full-service locations.

“Early in his life, Jim faced a number of challenges that would have deterred others, yet he persevered,” said Matthew Rose, president, Horatio Alger Association and 2013 Horatio Alger Award recipient. “What’s more impressive is that his commitment was not just to achieving personal success, but to bettering his community so that others could have the same opportunity to reach their goals. He is sure to make an indelible mark on our Scholars, and we are delighted to have him join our organization.”

In 1999 Mr. Ayers established The Ayers Foundation to improve the quality of life for the people of Tennessee, with a specific focus on education. Through The Ayers Scholars Program, scholarship counseling and funding is provided to five high schools and two community colleges in rural areas of West, Middle, and East Tennessee. It also supports the children of FirstBank employees and since its inception, the Scholars Program has awarded more than 6,300 scholarships. In 2012, Mr. Ayers funded the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University to support principals and teachers in better preparing students across the state for college and the workforce. In recognition of their philanthropic endeavors, he and his wife, Janet, received the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2007 Philanthropist of the Year Award. In 2015 the Ayers’ received the Jack Massey Leadership Award, which honors individuals whose leadership and accomplishments have enriched the quality of life for citizens of our nation.

“It is an honor to be inducted into an organization that offers meaningful support to exceptionally deserving students,” said Mr. Ayers. “Access to education allowed me to explore the endless opportunities that were available to me and starting a scholarship program of my own has been such a rewarding endeavor. I believe that my involvement in the Horatio Alger Association will allow me to provide more young people with the opportunity to pursue a college degree.”

Through its Members, Horatio Alger Association aims to educate young people about the limitless opportunities afforded to them by the free-enterprise system. To further this mission, the organization awards scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. Like Association Members, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced significant adversities, but have also displayed unmatched resilience in overcoming their challenges. Since the scholarship program was established in 1984, Horatio Alger Association has provided more than $159 million to students in need, all of which has been funded solely through the generosity of Association Members and friends.

“It is clear that Mr. Ayers has enriched the lives of countless Tennesseans throughout his life,” said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director, Horatio Alger Association. “He recognizes that education is pivotal to personal and professional development, opening doors that many young people never thought possible. Mr. Ayers’ unwavering belief in the opportunities afforded by education will be a source of inspiration for our Scholars.”

Mr. Ayers and the Member Class of 2019 will be formally inducted into the Association on April 4-6, 2019, during the Association’s 72nd Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The annual three-day event honors the achievements of both Members and National Scholars, affording both groups the opportunity to meet and interact as well as exchange stories of hardships and triumphs.

For more information about Horatio Alger Association and its Member Class of 2019, please visit and/or follow the organization on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using the hashtag #HoratioAlgerAward.


About Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans:

Founded in 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. The Association honors the achievements of outstanding leaders who have accomplished remarkable successes in spite of adversity by bestowing upon them the Horatio Alger Award and inducting them as lifetime Members. Horatio Alger Members support promising young people with the resources and confidence needed to overcome adversity in pursuit of their dreams through higher education. Through the generosity of its Members and friends, in 2018, the Association awarded more than $16 million in undergraduate and graduate need-based scholarships across the United States and Canada, and also provided college support and mentoring services to its Scholars. Since 1984, the Association has awarded more than $159 million in college scholarships to more than 25,000 deserving young people. For more information, please visit