F. Eugene Ayres, who as an investigative reporter broke a series of major stories during the 1960s and 1970s at the Oakland Tribune, died Wednesday August 19, 1998 at Marin General Hospital at the age of 68 Mr. Ayres, a longtime resident of Berkeley who spent his retirement years in Inverness, died after a two-year battle with prostate cancer. He retired from the Tribune in 1991. . Mr. Ayres was born in Jasper, Mo., on Aug. 31, 1929, and grew up on a farm. He later joined the Marines and saw combat as an enlisted man in the Korean War. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1957, then joined the staff of the Kansas City Star. He worked briefly at the Tacoma News Tribune before joining the Oakland Tribune in 1963. In his retirement years, he hunted in Missouri and fished for trout in Idaho with old newspaper colleagues. Mr. Ayres is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth, of Oakland, and his brother, Vernon, of Carthage, Mo.
Starting in the mid-1960s, long before the Watergate scandal thrust investigative reporting into the public consciousness, Mr. Ayres had published a string of hard-hitting, carefully researched exposes.
In 1967, he joined Tribune reporter Jeff Morgan to turn a story about a seemingly mundane southern Alameda County murder into a 12-part, 25,000-word series about corruption in handling of the Teamsters Union pension fund. Several years later, the two reported that then-San Francisco Mayor Joseph L. Alioto had earned $2.3 million in a fee-splitting scheme with Washington state Attorney General John O'Connell involving a lawsuit against 29 electrical contractors. The scandal drew national attention, and bribery and fraud charges were filed against Alioto and O'Connell by the U.S. Justice Department but were later dismissed by a federal judge.
During the Watergate era, Mr. Ayres and Morgan produced stories on President Richard Nixon's infamous ``dirty tricks'' campaign. But the most important story of their careers never saw print. Investigating Nixon's donation of his personal papers for historical purposes, Mr. Ayres and Morgan prepared a story reporting that Nixon had used the donation to avoid paying income taxes. However, Tribune publisher William Knowland, a former Republican senator from California, killed the report. Three weeks later, the Providence (R.I.) Journal published its version of the story, which later won a Pulitzer Prize. "Ayres was the smartest guy I ever knew,'' said Morgan, who now lives in the Virgin Islands. ``He had great, great integrity.''
Morgan left the paper in 1976, and Mr. Ayres went on to investigate the Moonies, report on the controversies surrounding the Peripheral Canal and former California Chief Justice Rose Bird, and cover a series of high-profile federal trials, including the Navy espionage trial of Jerry Whitworth.
"He was the consummate professional,'' said former Tribune reporter Gayle Montgomery. ``He and Morgan were a brilliant team. Morgan was a great writer and Gene was a patient, painstaking researcher, extremely careful about everything he reported.'' Wallace Turner, the former San Francisco bureau chief for New York Times who covered some of the same stories Mr. Ayres did, called him a ``great reporter who brought to every assignment an integrity and important ability to assess the personalities involved.''