He walked the streets of Seattle day after day after day looking for a job, any job.
“I’ll never forget that feeling of not belonging,” says Phil Ayers.
“Everyday while I was looking for work, I saw people going and coming from their jobs, they all had a part in this world, a purpose.
I felt like I was just taking up space, like I didn’t belong — what a horrible feeling that was.”
He recalls another memory, one where others were made to feel they didn’t belong.
“I went to Air Force training in Biloxi, Miss. in the 1950s and saw something I had never seen before, a sign on an outhouse that said, ‘Colored folks.’ I could not believe my eyes. Later I got on a bus, and the back half was divided by a white line indicating the colored section was in the rear. I went and sat in the back.”
Those experiences were more than 40 years ago, yet Ayers has never forgotten.
Moved by this compassion, Ayers has since lived his life helping others feel a sense of belonging. Since retiring several years ago, he volunteers full-time helping senior citizens feel this sense.
“Everything that Phil does is under the radar,” says Pastor Jim Lindus of Trinity Lutheran Church. “He quietly and humbly serves the most vulnerable in our community.”
“Phil makes every attempt to stay out of the spotlight as he faithfully goes about his work,” Lindus continued. “I know that he was very uncomfortable, as many are being honored as a Hometown Hero, but he epitomizes the title. Phil visits shut-ins daily. He provides mobility to those who cannot drive, delivers groceries medicine and mail. He sends cards and makes phone calls to those whose phones rarely ring. Because of his service, elderly members of our community have been able to stay in their homes.
“He is faithful in every way and yet most people in our congregation have no idea what he does for others. Phil is a Whidbey Island treasure and a role model for all who live and love here. He is an inspiration to me, and I thank God for him.”
One person Ayers makes a world of difference for is Freeland resident Tally Mackie.
“It all started when I saw a note on our door,” Mackie remembers.
The note read, “If you ever need anything at all, a ride, grocery shopping — anything, just give me a call,” and it was signed Phil Ayers with his phone number.
“Can you even imagine in this day in age and busy culture someone leaving a note like that?” Mackie says with her eyes wide open.
“Well, I called Phil that week as my husband and I really needed a ride to Everett. Since that time Phil has come to our rescue so many times I can’t count them, and any time of day or night.”
Mackie tears up and shakes her head in disbelief, “I just can’t believe how generous he is with his time. He never makes us feel like we are an inconvenience. He says we are friends, and he likes to spend time with us. Here we didn’t even know him, and now he calls us his friends. I just don’t know what we would do without Phil. I tell you that man is an angel. He’s our angel.”
Ayers remarks, “I never thought of volunteering in this way. I made myself open and available to God’s leading, and this is the need that showed up. The Samaritan story in the Bible saw a need and didn’t walk on by.”
Every one of us has felt pain, he says, and we can use that to help lessen the suffering of others. No act of kindess is too small.
Ayers and his wife Amy are seated in the snug living room of their modest home, with their two beloved giant black Schnauzer’s Sam and Kelly beside them.
“Amy was a psychiatric nurse, and I think she took me on as some kind of case study,” Ayers says smiling as he looks at Amy.
The Ayers chose not to have children of their own.
“We both were raised by working mothers and fathers and felt that wasn’t ideal for a child, and we didn’t want to give up our jobs, so we made a conscious decision not to have children,” he explains. “We get to enjoy other people’s children, though.”
Phil Ayers’ devotion to others is legendary.
Amy Ayers says of her husband, “Every morning at 7 a.m., Phil takes our dogs up to Greenbank to walk them for at least an hour. While he is walking them he goes over each and every name on a prayer list of names and needs. You know, Phil takes his commitment to helping others so seriously he won’t even leave to take a vacation with me,” Amy Ayers laughs.
“This could be a bone of contention between us, but how could I be upset when he’s committed to helping other people? This is such an admirable virtue,” she says.
Nan Kent of Freeland says, “Phil makes it possible for me to live alone. He picks up my mail and feeds the birds and chipmunks every day.”
“One day I was not up when he came to feed the birds,” Kent recalls. “He called his wife Amy and 911. I owe my life to Phil. Now I feel most appreciative for my second chance at life.
“Without Phil’s patience and caring I would still be in Careage. Now I feel most appreciative for my second chance at life. I am so blessed to have Phil and his wife Amy as my friends,” she says.
Ayers says, “It’s heartbreaking to read about all the needs of all the people around the world. Sadly, most suffering and isolation I cannot do anything about.
“But I am able to lend a little help to one person at a time, and I hope this helps to add to their sense of belonging.”
Phil Clarence Ayers
Born: Nov. 8, 1939 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Family: His father was a mill worker, his mother, a professional pianist. He was one of three children; brothers Brian and Jerry (deceased). Wife, Amy Ayers. They married June 10, 1967.
Education: Hudson’s Bay High School, Vancouver, Wash; University of Washington.
Occupation: Retired from refrigeration and air conditioning sales.
Years on Whidbey: 34.
Hobbies: Reading, studying, speaking and reading and writing Japanese.
South Whidbey people you most admire:
“Pastor Jim Lindus, Pastor Dennis Hanson, Gunda Vesque, Betty Lehman, Tally Mackie, Don Dils; these people inspire me to be a better person.”
Would you want to write a book?
“They say that everyone has a story to tell. But I think I will leave that to others.”
What do you miss about being a kid?
“The freedom to do anything and the promise of a future ahead.”
A point in your life that changed your direction?
“I call it my U-turn in life. I was stationed in Japan and one day walked into a Baptist church there. The people were so giving and loving, that I wanted to be like them. I still support and visit that church today.”
What would you do if you won a million dollars?
“Pay off the Trinity church debt, and the debt of Saitozaki church in Japan.”
Your favorite song?
“That Will Be The Day.”
Would you like to have power?
“No, there is that old saying: ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”
If you could choose up to seven words on your epitaph?
“He did his best.”
What others say about Phil Ayers
“We are all lucky to have Phil Ayers in our community. With Phil’s heartfelt volunteering I experience the relief and much-needed breaks, being a caregiver to my husband Dick. It makes me want to follow in Phil’s footsteps some day to return his kindness to those in need.
Dick looks forward to Phil visiting. They enjoy baseball together and talking. Phil says you don’t need special skills to be helpful, just an open heart.
Phil is a very quiet man, a man of action. He does not talk about himself unless you ask him a question. He is a shy man who is very caring. He always says he loves what he is doing. He also loves his wife, Amy.
He is a totally reliable man, extremely compassionate. He’s a real gem.”
Gunda Vesque, Freeland volunteer
“Our South Whidbey community thrives on volunteers and the best example of volunteerism that I know of is Phil Ayers. There are many recipients that individually receive his reliable services.
Due to his kind and caring and gentle ways, many are ‘living a life’ they would not be able to live, if it weren’t for Phil and his talented serving manner. He takes in mail and newspapers or feeds birds and squirrels of those who enjoy them, but cannot get out to refill their feeders. He does grocery shopping and errands and other tasks for those who are unable to. His wife is also kind and caring and extremely helpful to those in need.
I realize that Phil is not looking for any acclaim or reward, as he shies away from being recognized. He prefers to do his deeds anonymously, true to his humble nature.”
Kay Anderson, office assistant at Trinity Lutheran Church
“I have known Phil and his wife Amy for over 30 years. They are both outstanding people.
Phil has a quiet strength. If I were to describe Phil in three words it would be kind, honorable, steadfast. He would never do anything to harm anyone else.
He stands for anything he says and believes in. He is always there for anyone who needs him. For instance, I had an eye problem, and was scared and didn’t know what to do. The first person that came to mind was to call Phil. He was at work over town and yet right away he said he would come over and take me to the eye doctor.
He comforted me by taking charge and telling me, ‘Here is what we are going to do: I am calling my eye doctor right now to get you in and I will pick you up and take you there.’
No matter what, he’s there for you. He’s devoted and caring for people. He and his wife never had children of their own, but they know how to be with children, and kids just love them both. He’s a fabulous role model, mentor and unselfish.”
Judy Harper, Clinton
“He is always willing to help all in any way possible, when you call or ask him, or if he sees a need.”
Betty Lehman, veterans volunteer
“Sundays you will find Phil and Amy Ayers in the back pew, left side of Trinity Lutheran Church worship center.
When I walk past and tap him on his bald head he looks up and gifts me with a gentle smile and warm eyes.
I know I’ve interrupted his private devotion time, yet can’t walk on by without connecting. After all, this is the Phil who spends his week caring for people. He visits the homebound, sits with them while their spouse can shop or have a break. He has a regular schedule of ‘dropping by.’ Regular meaning every week. He runs errands, and ‘Whatever I can do to help out.’
Quiet, devout, unassuming, gentle, soft-spoken, gentle smile. Blessed are they when Phil comes each week asking, ‘How’s it going? Anything I can do for you?’
From that back pew in TLC on Sunday to the front doors of those in need the rest of the week, Phil becomes the good news that God has not forgotten them.”
Pastor Dennis Hanson, Trinity Lutheran Church
“Phil sets the tone for me on Sunday mornings at church. He is usually in the church before I am, but when I arrive he will stand up and reach out with a warm handshake.
Phil and I serve on the Lay Caring Ministry Team together. When one of the team mentions the name of someone who needs transportation, he is always quick to volunteer. He is just as quick to call on anyone who needs encouragement.
To me he is consistent, compassionate and caring.”
Don Dils, church volunteer