Frederick Ayer Ii, Scientist, Traveler

Frederick Ayer II, heir to a family fortune generated by woolen mills and sarsaparilla, got the message from his father when he was a boy: He was urged to make something of himself and not merely live off his inheritance, so something would be left for future generations.

Mr. Ayer became a research physicist in energy production.

But he used his wealth to further his interests in travel, orchids and the arts, and to fund research on DNA, cancer and human sexuality.

"He was extremely gracious, very erudite, and reserved but in a warm way," said Chris Notske, who edited Mr. Ayer's book, "Memoirs of an Unplanned Life."

"He had no ego, and also was totally open to new ideas and adventures. When (William) Masters and (Virginia) Johnson were first getting started in sexual research, he helped fund one of their earliest studies, then remained on the board."

Mr. Ayer provided a grant that helped found the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis in 1964.

He also contributed to research on UFOs.

Such curiosity and his ability to listen made him a sought-after companion at dinner parties, said his wife of 32 years, Rosa Ayer.

He played host to many such parties, many of them fund-raisers for the arts, at his 15,000-square-foot, Spanish-style mansion in The Highlands in Shoreline.

Mr. Ayer died at home Sunday (Oct. 18) of a nerve disorder, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. He was 89.

Born in New York City, he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Harvard University in 1931, then a master's degree in physics at New York University in 1952.

He did research on energy at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., at NYU and at the University of Colorado.

As a member of the Air Force-funded Condon Commission on UFOs, Mr. Ayer wrote one chapter of its 1969 report, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects."

He began to buy acreage on Orcas Island in 1943 after visiting a friend in the area. He accumulated some 1,000 acres over the years, and visited whenever he got the chance. He moved to Seattle in 1970.

Mr. Ayer donated money to research on cornea transplants and on the connection between emotional disturbance and cancer. Recently he helped fund DNA research at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

An avid traveler, he compiled a grammar on the Balinese language. He also wrote about his adventures collecting orchids in Ethiopia.

"He has a huge greenhouse filled with orchids here, and also one on Long Island," said his wife.

Also surviving are his sons, James Ayer of Marblehead, Mass.; Anthony Ayer, St. Croix, Virgin Islands; and Frederick Ayer, Paris; their mother and his wife from a previous marriage, Betty Jenney Richards, East Hampton, N.Y.; stepdaughter Carla White; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial open house was to be held at his home in The Highlands at 12:30 p.m. today.

Remembrances may go to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington Campus, Seattle, WA 98195; or to the Foundation for the Ayer Botany Greenhouse Fund, c/o the University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.