On Friday, November 6th, Michael died peacefully on his own terms in his home in Toronto from colon cancer. Born in Ottawa and raised in North Toronto, Michael was the first of four children of Alan and Joan (Wilson) Ayre. He is predeceased by his parents; his sister, Barbara (Danny Tomlinson); his brother, John (Mary Ann Evans); and his first wife, Regina (nee Siniute). Michael is survived by his wife, Ona (nee Jauneikaite); his sister, Margaret (Jack Fleetwood); and seven nephews and nieces.
From early on it was clear that Michael was smart and ambitious. He attended Bathurst Heights High School where he excelled in his studies and, as an extra-curricular activity, quickly passed all the hurdles to become a King’s Scout. Upon graduation in 1961 from Victoria College at the University of Toronto with a major in political science and economics, he won a coveted Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. This was followed by an MA in economic history at Columbia University where he met and married Regina in 1964, whose family from Lithuania had settled in Montreal as refuges after World War II. His life in New York City over the next 28 years entailed work as a corporate economist for firms including McGraw-Hill Companies and NL Industries, and was punctuated by trips to their winter getaway on St. Eustatius Island. Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union and withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltic countries, Michael and Regina moved to Vilnius where Michael lent his expertise as an economic advisor, served as executive vice-president of the Lithuanian Investment Bank, and worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development where he founded the Business Advisory Services. All these efforts fostered entrepreneurial commerce and economic recovery in the Baltic States. He later established Humanitas, a book distributor in Vilnius specializing in academic books and books for teaching the English language, and helped Regina renovate her family home in Utena into a children’s library and oversee its activities. His enthusiasm for Lithuania, and contribution to it, won him honourary citizenship by the city of Utena.
After Regina’s death in 2002, Michael divided his time between Vilnius and Toronto and continued a project that he had earlier begun which entailed researching 19th century photographs of Caribbean towns, people and businesses through visits to archives in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean. This book, The Caribbean in Sepia: A History in Photographs 1840-1900 was published in 2012. A few years before then, Ona captured his heart and they were married in 2010. Ten golden years with Ona graced Michael’s life, during which they migrated between Toronto and Vilnius, as well as their summer cottage on the Baltic coast in Nida. There he very much enjoyed sitting on their terrace with its garden view, and a book and a glass of wine at hand. He also researched his second book, The Scottish Community in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, published in 2020, detailing the life of Scottish migrants and their communities in Lithuania from 1630 to 1750.
Michael had a ready smile, a kind heart, and always had to have “a project” to do and “a destination” for a walk. His energetic, optimistic, can-do approach to life was firmly rooted in a sound understanding of reality. This guided him throughout a full and rewarding life until the moment of his death. His ashes will be buried in Lithuania when travel allows.
Special thanks are extended to the Odette Cancer Centre of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Drs. Darlene Fenech, Kristy Wasson, and Ines Menjak; the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, and Spectrum Health Care doctor Naushin Walji and nurse Priscilla Sudeesh. Donations in Michael’s name may be made to the Odette Cancer Centre (donate.sunnybrook.ca/tribute). Condolences may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com.