Patricia Shield Ayres Receives Servant Leadership Award from Seminary of the Southwest

By November 9, 2023Featured
Charles Cook, Patricia Shield Ayres, and Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge at Seminary of the Southwest's Matriculation Evensong service.
(From left to right) Charles Cook, Patricia Shield Ayres, and Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge at Seminary of the Southwest’s Matriculation Evensong service on Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Seminary of the Southwest.

Patricia Shield Ayres received the Charles Cook Servant Leadership Award from the Seminary of the Southwest. The award recognizes her faithful leadership and inspiring example as a person of faith, an advocate for justice, and a steward of the environment. 

Pat was honored during Southwest’s annual Matriculation Evensong service where new students are welcomed and sign their names to the Matriculation Book — a Southwest tradition that spans decades. Charles Cook, for whom the award is named, attended the service. Southwest faculty members created the award in 2009 to honor him when he retired from the Seminary.  

“Pat Ayres, with her late husband, Bob, have been wonderful friends of Seminary of the Southwest for many years,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest. “She is an extraordinary and humble servant leader. It was a blessing to honor her at Matriculation, particularly her work with her family to conserve and share the wildlands of Shield Ranch here in Austin.”  

During the service, Briggs Kittredge reflected on Pat’s formative experiences at Shield Ranch Barton Creek. Her parents, Fred and Vera Shield, purchased the land in 1938 where Pat, a San Antonio native, would visit every summer as a child. While riding horses, hiking, and fishing, Pat developed her keen intellect and tender affection for the land.  

Independent and courageous, she made a bargain with her father Fred. If he would allow her to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she would agree to study economics. She attended Wellesley College, and soon after in 1955 married Robert M. Ayres, Jr., an investment banker in San Antonio.  

In 1977, Pat and Bob founded the Shield-Ayres Foundation, where Pat served as president until 2014. The foundation was based on their shared values, including their commitment to community, service, and leadership. Since its founding, the foundation has worked to strengthen organizations that met the basic human needs of the most vulnerable members of our community, provide access to educational opportunity and the arts, advocate for social justice, and promote land and water conservation. 

Briggs Kittredge acknowledged Pat and Bob’s abiding Christian-faith, which led them to support the First Baptist Church of San Antonio, Seminary of the Southwest, University of the South, and The Episcopal School of Texas.  

Pat has made a lifelong commitment to serve others, seeing us all as members of one human family, said Briggs Kittredge. She has been particularly concerned with children’s needs, lending her support on both a state and international level.  

Governor Dolph Briscoe appointed Pat to serve on the board of the Texas Youth Commission in 1971, a state agency responsible for adjudicated youth. For many years, she served as national 

board member and board president of Bread for the World, a citizens’ movement to end global hunger. She also served on the board of Texans Care for Children, an organization she helped to found. 

In 1998, Pat and her children Bob Ayres and Vera Ayres Bowen donated a conservation easement on 4,670 acres of Shield Ranch Barton Creek to The Nature Conservancy of Texas. A second easement, on an adjacent 1,676 acres, was sold to the City of Austin as part of a voter-approved initiative in 1999 to protect water quality in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Together, these easements permanently protect the Ranch in perpetuity.  

“It’s been our deep desire that our family steward Shield Ranch so that it remain a wild place to share with others and especially with our neighbors with limited access to the outdoors,” said Bob Ayres, Pat’s son and president of the Shield Ranch Foundation.   

A 2007 collaboration with El Buen Samaritano and Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center led Pat and her family to help found Camp El Ranchito, a scholarship-based overnight camp that provides children with access to the outdoors. The camp was hosted in primitive tents at the Ranch for 15 years. Pat gave 131 acres to the Shield Ranch Foundation, and in fall 2022, the Campsite at Shield Ranch opened its doors to provide sustainable permanent facilities for Camp El Ranchito, host community groups, and offer immersive nature programs for all ages.  

“Through her extraordinary generosity she is able to share our beloved place with the larger community so they can also find refuge and restoration in the natural world,” said Vera Ayres Bowen, Pat’s daughter and president of the Shield-Ayres Foundation.  

Pat continues to enjoy time on the Ranch with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She remains engaged with family and staff in planning for the future of Shield Ranch.