County mourns passing of Dr. Ayer

MIDDLEBURY — Dr. Alan Ayer introduced an estimated 6,000 people into the world during a 36-year career as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Middlebury. Many of those 6,000 people, and many more, were shaken to the core this week after learning of the untimely, sudden death of Ayer this past Friday, March 13. He was 71.
Ayer had been a longstanding partner in Addison Associates in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a practice that he and Dr. James Malcolm established in 1980. The two men had spent four years together in their medical residency at what was then known as Mary Fletcher Hospital — now known as the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Ayer decided to enter the United States Air Force upon completing his residency, while Malcolm began practicing in Middlebury.
“I recruited him back here,” Malcolm recalled of his desire to see Ayer return and join him in practice.
The invitation resonated with Ayer, who returned to the area with his spouse — Claire Ayer, who is currently a state senator — in 1979. Dr. Ayer practiced solo for around a year before formally joining Malcolm in the formation of Addison Associates.
They proved to be a formidable medical tandem and of course, great friends.
“We were a good team; we complemented each other,” Malcolm said. “We had an acceptance of each other and complete trust in each other.
“It was extremely rewarding,” added Malcolm, now retired. “Living in a small community, you know everybody and everybody knows you.”
The Malcolms and the Ayers would occasionally vacation together on Lake Dunmore. One physician would cover for the other when he was unavailable.
“It was a wonderful relationship, and I will severely miss him, for sure,” Malcolm said.
He described Ayer as being extremely intelligent, and having a great work ethic, superb medical skills and true sense of humanity.
“He had great teaching skills, too,” Malcolm said. “I would want no one other than him assisting me in a difficult case.”
Claire Ayer earned her RN certification and would occasionally help out during the early years with billing and other chores in the Addison Associates office. She graciously took a phone call on Monday to express her gratitude for the outpouring of support she has received in the wake of her husband’s passing.
“Everywhere you turn, someone has been trying to help,” Ayer said.
She was particularly touched by a gesture made by a group of firefighters from Weybridge, a community in which Claire and Alan Ayer lived for three decades prior to their move to Addison.
Ayer remarked that she had recently noticed that the wood stove in her home had been smoking. Wood stoves throughout the state have been worked hard during this frigid winter. Alan Ayer — very adept at household projects — had been meaning to tend to the stove.
“Alan had said, ‘Don’t use the wood stove, I’ve got to clean the chimney,’” Claire Ayer recalled. It was a chore that Dr. Ayer had not been able to tend to prior to his passing. Claire mentioned the wood stove to a neighbor and a good friend this past weekend.
“Saturday morning, six people from the Weybridge Fire Department came over and cleaned my chimney,” she said, trying to hold back tears. “It was such a beautiful thing. It’s the beauty of living in the country and staying in one place.”
Many family members have rushed to Sen. Ayer’s side during this difficult time. They will grieve with her and give her some added strength. Ayer will soon return to the Legislature, where she serves as Senate majority leader and chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee — a panel that continues to work on health care reform.
 “I had thought I would be (back at the Statehouse) in a week from today, but I think I will probably need another week to get things done,” Ayer said.
Ayer expressed confidence that her Health and Welfare Committee vice Chairwoman Ginny Lyons, a Chittenden County Democrat, will be able to capably take the helm during her absence.
“She is very experienced and very knowledgeable, and we have a very experienced committee staff person,” Ayer said. “We have a bit of a road map to go on, so they will be fine for a couple of weeks.”
In the meantime, the county will continue to mourn the loss of one of its most respected and well-liked physicians. The news of Dr. Ayer’s death has hit particularly hard at the Addison Associates office, which has a veteran crew that has been together for many years.
JoAnn Madison had served as Ayer’s one and only Registered Nurse for his entire 36 years in practice. She noted there were some expectant parents who left the office crying a year and a half ago when they learned that Ayer had decided to stop delivering babies.
“It is mind-boggling what he has done for this county and this community,” Madison said. “You can’t say enough wonderful things about that man.”
She noted that Ayer also had a keen sense of humor, but maintained a sharp focus when confronting a problem.
“There are not enough words to describe what a great person he was,” Madison said.
Dr. Kate Wagner is chief of the obstetrics-gynecology department at Porter Hospital. She, too, showered praise upon Ayer.
“He was an incredible teacher and mentor,” Wagner said. “He was one of the smartest guys I ever met. He was one of those people you’d want to get a bear hug from, or give one to.”
It seemed like Ayer was never stumped by even the most problematic medical cases, Wagner noted.
“He had always dealt with it before or seen it before,” Wagner said. “He always knew what the answer was.”
Donna Audet, practice manager of Addison Associates, also worked with Ayer for decades.
“We had a very good working relationship as a group that most people don’t get to experience in their lifetime,” Audet said.
She credited Ayer for many things, including having had paramount concern for the safety of his patients and for having a true passion for his profession.
“He was a very driven man, to say the least,” Audet said.
While Ayer had been winding down his workload and some of his responsibilities, he still relished his role as a physician, his colleagues noted.
“He would say to JoAnn and me that he had more to offer,” Audet said. “He was not ready for retirement.”
There was a moment of silence to honor Ayer prior to Monday morning’s legislative breakfast in Bristol and at the Porter Medical Center annual meeting on Monday evening.
Porter President Jim Daily was in South Carolina following the recent death of his father-in-law, and therefore could not be present at the Porter annual meeting. But he provided a statement, read out loud by Dr. Fred Kniffin:
“Pam and I were saddened yesterday to learn of the passing of Alan Ayer,” Daily wrote. “We considered him a friend, colleague, and the obstetrician that delivered our two daughters, Hillary and Tatum, almost 25 years ago. Although words cannot adequately express the sorrow we feel today, we know your pain and loss all too well, as we just lost Pam’s father on March 11. We had just returned from his service when we got the news. We hope that you can get some comfort from family and friends in the wonderful memories of Alan. The smallest things will bring a memory to warm your heart with tears and laughter. Our best to Claire and the entire Ayer family.”
A wake for Dr. Ayer will be held from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, March 20, at the Sanderson Funeral Home, South Main Street, Middlebury. There will be a funeral Mass at St. Mary’s in Middlebury at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 21.
Read a complete obituary for Dr. Ayer here.
For more comments from readers see our initial story on his death here.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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