July 14, 2018 marks my 16th anniversary at ISTS. In the spring of 2002, I had the great privilege of being introduced to Nyles Ayers, the Founder of what was then called Scholarship Program Administrators. Nyles was looking for someone to run the company so that he could retire and I was looking for a new challenge after 11 years growing a software company. I had always thought I’d retire from that software company – but when I met Nyles and realized that I could be part of a business whose business it was to help organizations support education, I was in!
Nyles and I worked together for only a few short years before I purchased the business from him, but I always felt we’d know each other a long time. He was ahead of his time and it was refreshing to be working with a man in his 70s who did not make assumptions about women. He treated me with respect, asked for and valued my opinions, challenged me and was willing to let some sacred cows go if I was willing to state my case and fight for a change.
We had lunch at least once a month for many years after he retired – usually at a meat and three down the road. He liked to pick me up and drive me there and fussed at me when I’d walk too fast and not let him open the door for me, which he did out of respect and I accepted when I’d remember to slow down.
The last time we had lunch was a few months before his death in 2012. His health had declined and I had brought him the Chinese food I knew he liked. We’d sat in his study and chatted, and he’d told me about his most recent read. He was a voracious reader and checked out all his books from the public library where they always had a long list of books for which he was waiting. Nyles and I shared of love of language and other cultures and a pet peeve for bad grammar. My last visual of Nyles was of him surrounded by piles of books in his big, soft lazy boy, smiling.
For me, time has a way of watering down, softening any negative memories. I know we had our moments, but the strongest, clearest memories I have of Nyles are the ones where he is funny, generous, wicked smart, kind and enjoying a cold beer over Chinese food. I am grateful for the opportunities he gave me and the trust he placed in me. My hope is that when I retire in 2030 I will have the chance to pass on the torch in the same way Nyles did – fairly, allowing new leadership to put their stamp on things. And I hope they’ll join me for an occasional cold one.
– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO