Memories of my friend, Prof. George Ayers

My first interaction with Prof. Ayers, who insisted I call him George, was in 1997 when I applied for the “Extension Specialist” job when it was first advertized by MSU Entomology. He was the search committee chair. Right away I could tell he was a straight shooter. You could count on him giving you an honest assessment of what he thought of you or others. In 1998, when I was interviewed (again) for the Assistant Professor in Apiculture job, George invited me to accompany him on a night collection of insect specimens with his students. I had forgotten most of my insect taxonomy, and I was sure I was not making a favorable impression. However, I was a straight shooter too, and simply said I do not know if I did not. Something must have clicked that night, because it turned out to be the beginning of a 24 year friendship.

George and I shared a love for photography. My focus is bees on flowers. George loved to photograph flowers alone. He was much more of a perfectionist than me. Not only would he lug all the gadgets for a perfect picture out to the field (tripod, sliding focuser, flash light, diffuser, etc) , he would also bring flowers back to photograph inside his office or home under more controlled conditions. One year I made the mistake of mentioning to him that MSU had a policy that if one shoots a photo with university equipment, that photo then is copyrighted by the university, not by the photographer. I thought it strange and complained to him. He had not been aware of the policy and immediately started buying personal duplicates of all his MSU photography equipment. It must have cost him A LOT because he only used top of the line digital cameras and lenses, but it was important to him that his pictures be his. MSU later changed that policy but I only learned that change by accident many years later (I guess one needs to read the faculty handbook once in a while).

George used to have the best office, at the top of the building, with many windows and a great view. One day, as he was nearing retirement, he said “Zach do you want my office?” At the time, his office was huge compared to mine, so thanks to George, for a little while I got the best office. When I gave up that office in order to move with my lab to another building that offered more lab space, I was able to return the favor by moving him into an office next to mine, so we were together again. I also paid to install a window air conditioner for his office. After that he was always telling me “Thank you again for the air conditioner! It is so nice and cool here!” That was George, always gracious for the little favors others have done for him.

In July 2019 when my wife and I visited him at his home, he asked if I would finish his book on American honey plants. This was work he had done over more than 10 years (2004 to 2017) but being such a perfectionist, he never quite finished the book. During the visit he still recognized me but explained that he had forgotten most of his knowledge of plants, and could not finish it. He gave me a lot of DVDs which had the work he had already done on the book. I have been working on the book the last few years and it may take another few to finish it. But I am so honored that my friend, Prof. George Ayers, entrusted me with this great endeavor!

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Feb. 7, 2023. Zachary Huang
On July 19th, 2019 me and my wife visited Prof. Ayers and his wife Sandie. Here are some photos we took that day.
1. George pointed to some plants that day. I tried to discuss some bee plant thing with him but he basically told me he did not remember that much about plants anymore.

2. I took a photo of his large garage, from this you can tell how organized he always is. In the same way, he would edit his photos right away and save a few best ones and delete all the rest. He also has a handwritten book of plants he has done. I have to learn this habit because I would forgot which flowers I have photographed.

3. A photo of George and his wife Sandie. Photo by Joyce Wang.

4. Finally a photo of two of us together. Photo by Joyce Wang.

Author: Zachary Huang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *