“How will you honor the institution that educated you?” That is the question that Lee Ayers ’82 has asked himself over the years after graduating from Clemson. He says that Clemson has been a big part of his life ever since he stepped foot on campus. From his first day as a freshman, he immediately began developing relationships with fellow students and professors who he considers his Clemson Family to this day.
“Looking back, I can see that those connections put me in positions of opportunity,” Lee shares. “I got a world-class education at Clemson and upon graduation, took a job at an electric co-op in Columbia, working for a fellow Clemson alum.” This job thrust Lee instantly into the responsibility of running a complex project, and Lee said that he was prepared to handle it, thanks to his experiences both in and out of the classroom while at Clemson.
Lee was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, before his family later moved to South Carolina. Lee’s father was a proud Virginia Tech (then known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute) alumnus who majored in agronomy and spent his career working in public service, first as a county extension agent in Virginia and later for an electric co-op. When Lee was born, one of his father’s fellow county agents — who happened to be a Clemson alumnus — presented Lee with a stuffed Tiger. Lee says the die was cast for him at that point, and when his father’s career moved them to South Carolina during the 1970s, he began to realize that Clemson was his destiny.
Lee began to focus on electrical engineering programs in high school and had offers from other universities. Ultimately, he felt the most at home on Clemson’s campus and chose electrical engineering as his major. During his four years at Clemson, Lee was involved in numerous organizations, including Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, student government and Tiger Brotherhood. “I had a great student experience,” Lee recounts. “I got involved and worked up to leadership roles within those organizations, which helped give me experiences that transferred over to the business world.”
Lee met his wife Janice when she conducted the orientation at his second job after college. It was his first day working for Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative in Lexington, South Carolina. They have been married for 34 years, and Janice retired from Mid-Carolina Collective in January of 2023 after 44 years of service. Lee has been there for 38 years “and counting,” as he likes to say, and he currently serves as the vice president of engineering.
“Lee very quickly introduced me to the Clemson culture,” says Janice. “He’s had football season tickets since he graduated, and after we started dating, I started coming with him to games. It didn’t take long for me to see that Clemson is a huge part of who Lee is, and it didn’t take me any time at all to become a Clemson fan myself,” Janice said. “Lee is the very definition of ‘A Clemson Gentleman Who Needs No Introduction’ and wherever we go, he is an ambassador for Clemson University,” she added.
In fact, Lee was awarded “Volunteer of the Year” in 2021 for his extensive involvement with the Alumni Association, an organization he says he is proud to be part of. “I love the inclusivity of Clemson’s Alumni Association,” Lee said. “It is one of the few in the country that does not require graduation as a prerequisite for membership; simply having been enrolled and completed one semester makes someone eligible to be an Alumni Association member. That speaks to me of the family-oriented, alumni-friends-family type of organization that we have,” he said.
Lee serves as president of Columbia’s Second Century Society, a Clemson University-based luncheon club which provides a forum for Clemson representatives to share information about the University with alumni and friends of Clemson in the Midlands area. Active as a volunteer since its inception, Lee has provided leadership and service to the Second Century Society for more than 30 years.
In addition to his volunteer work for Clemson, Lee serves on the Utilities Technology Council, is an active member of the S.C. Electric Co-op Engineering Association and is a staunch advocate for providing high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas of the state. “I am committed to making things happen for South Carolina’s communities,” Lee stated. “My focus as an alumnus has been to do good and make things better wherever I’m planted.”
Something that Lee says that he has realized over the years is that “in anything you give to, you get back more than you give.” Lee listened to speakers like Clemson University Historian Otis Pickett, who asked, “What will be your legacy?” Professor Emeritus Colonel Sandy Edge asked, “How will you serve?” These questions began to stir thoughts in Lee’s mind about how he could give back to the University he loves so dearly and what his own legacy could be.
“Our gift to the endowment will live on perpetually. Knowing that gives both Janice and me peace of mind,” Lee said.
Lee has some advice for current Clemson students: “If you live your time at Clemson well, you’ll carry it with you for the rest of your life. Soak it up and treasure every moment of your days on campus,” he said.
Lee also offers a practical tip for students: “Find an avocation to go along with your vocation,” he suggests, “as this will provide a balance in life.” Lee’s interests outside of work and volunteering include travel and SCUBA diving. “The magnificence of Earth under water is indescribable,” Lee says. “The beauty and peacefulness are a great stress reliever for me.”
Lee’s diving and travel experiences around the world have given him a sense of respect and understanding of different cultures and ways of life. “The world is a great big picture book and those who never travel only see one page,” Lee said, quoting Saint Augustine. “What we’ve seen around the world is strong communities and love. We have a new appreciation for the simple way of life and an understanding that more is not always better. We’ve seen people in very basic, simple surroundings that we would characterize as some of the happiest people on Earth,” Lee said. Lee added that he appreciates Mark Twain’s observation that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
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