In the final phases of his 50-plus year career in education, Ahwatukee Foothills resident Gary Eyre called his election to the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame the “icing on the cake.”
Eyre has been helping advance adult education in many different facets over his five decade long career. He moved to Arizona with his family in 1988 to become the State Director of Adult Education. He later became the Deputy Associate State Superintendent and retired in 1998.
“When I first came to Arizona as the state director, the original dollars for the program were only about $50,000,” he said. “That was when Sandra Day O’Connor was here and she helped pass it through. Now, with federal funds, that amount is in the millions.”
His most notable work, however, came at the federal level. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that created a National Advisory Council on Adult Education. Eyre was named the first executive director and moved from Colorado to Virginia, and worked just a couple blocks from the White House.
“That was probably a real highlight of my career,” he said. “I served in the Nixon administration, under (President Gerald) Ford, and (President Jimmy) Carter, and a year under (President Ronald) Reagan.”
During his time there, the council looked at adult basic education that specifically targeted people 18 and older, non high school graduates and got them into programs to help them upgrade their education and marketable skills.
“Initially, it was all about adult literacy and basic adult development,” Eyre said. “Now it is more about advancing their vocational skills so they come out with more than a piece if paper.”
Along the way, his life experiences outside of education grew to Forrest Gump-like levels. He became an F-16 pilot, ran track during college at the University of Utah and for the Marines in Seoul, South Korea, and at the Asian Games in Sendei, Japan. He also acquired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cigarette holder.
He wanted to keep these memories for his family so he started writing brief stories about some of his most memorable moments. One included the first time he arrived in Washington, D.C., after being appointed executive director.
“I walked off the airplane and I was expected to be greeted by President Nixon and a waiting limousine,” Eyre said. “In fact, there wasn’t anyone there to greet me. I took a cab to my hotel and found out my agenda for the next day.”
His dedication to education runs in his family. His wife, an educator for 30-plus years, continues to work with Scholastic. She was recently in New Orleans to help in the Read 180 program, which raises reading and comprehension programs in schools.
While Eyre has been retired for 13 years, he continues to do contract work through his consulting firm, Advance Associates and Consultants, but he said the end is near. He is currently working on two government contracts that involve adult education and after they are completed, when he is 81, that will be it.
“Ever since I was in high school, I wanted to be an educator and I never wanted to be anything else,” Eyre said. “It was because of a teacher in high school. She was such a delight and opened the doors of learning to me.”
The ceremony took place on Thursday in Toronto and Eyre received a medallion from the organization. He will have a permanent plaque at the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame at the University of Oklahoma.
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