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In Memoriam: Gilbert F. Adams

Below: Mr. Adams and me when I spoke at the Presbyterian Home, Clinton, NY, in 2016.

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(Delivered May 5, 2018, Hamilton College Chapel)

There could be no more fitting setting for Mr. Adams’ Memorial service than this chapel. In all my years I have never encountered a person so devoted to his or her alma mater as Mr. Adams was to Hamilton College.

I am proud to be one of the few people Mr. Adams recruited to Hamilton twice.

Although I long ago reached the age where it was appropriate for me to call him Gil, it is a mark of my reverence for the man that he will always be Mr. Adams to me.

Mr. Adams coached East Orange High School’s first varsity hockey team when I was a sophomore. Mr. Adams coached his heart out, and we played as hard as we could. Unfortunately, as hard as we could play resulted in an 0-15 and 1 season. That one tie against Morris Hills Regional High, something of a powerhouse team in our league, remains a precious memory.

After my sophomore year, Mr. Adams left East Orange for West Essex Regional High where he coached their hockey team to the state championship.  I was in the stands for the final game against highly favored Chatham High.

When the final buzzer sounded Mr. Adams smile was as big as the sky. But his first gesture was not to celebrate but to seek out and shake the hand of the opposing coach and then to console and congratulate Chatham’s star player, Leroy Brennan, on an outstanding game.

I have learned that the F. in Mr. Adams name stands for, “Flagler,” but in my mind it stood for his hallmark, “Fair play.”

Through the 15 losses of my sophomore season, Mr. Adams, although he hated to lose, was always gracious in defeat. But I have never lost sight of the fact that he was equally gracious and humble when he was the Head Coach of the State Champs.

Although Mr. Adams left EOHS after my sophomore year, he maintained – and I honestly do not know why — an interest in me. 

In the fall of my senior year he called to invite me to join him on a trip to visit, “a very good college” where he would arrange for me to have an admissions interview

And so Mr. Adams drove me to Hamilton where I had an interview, saw a basketball game and slept in the TKE House, Mr. Adams old fraternity.

But I was not the only reason Mr. Adams drove up to Hamilton that fall.

Mr. Adams traveled to the Hill to have a long heart to heart with another of his East Orange protégées, Tyrone Brown.

Ty was “Mr. Everything” at EOHS, but after three years, he was considering dropping out of Hamilton.  Mr. Adams was there to tell him –in no uncertain terms — that was not a good idea.

Thanks to Mr. Adams, Tyrone stayed at Hamilton, went on to Cornell Law School, was Managing Editor of the Law Review and became the first African American to clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court. A most distinguished Law career ensued.

Mr. Adams must have been tired from being up all night talking to Ty because he actually allowed me to drive his car for a short part of the journey home. It was the first time I had ever driven a stick shift, and boy did he wake up quickly when I took the wheel.

Mr. Adams and I renewed our close contact when he became Hamilton’s Director of Alumni Affairs in 1967.

When he learned I had made the final of the NCAA regional College Tennis tournament my senior year, he made the six-hour drive to Rider College in Trenton New Jersey to see me play.

I wanted to win that match as much for him as for myself and for Hamilton. But, alas, Arthur Carrington of Hampton institute, who subsequently went on to win the national championship of the American Tennis Association and become a distinguished coach and tennis historian, was simply a better player.

I gave everything I had that day, and of course I was disappointed, but Mr. Adams had taught me there is only one way to lose: graciously.

 “No one cares …” I can still hear him say, “No one cares whether you had a sore ankle, a big test that day or about any other excuse.  People care about two things: who won and what was the score?”

In all my years of schooling  — at Hamilton, through five subsequent years and four summers of rabbinical studies and four additional part time years at Vanderbilt for my D. Min. degree, I have never learned a more important lesson.

At the time I graduated Hamilton— unlike today I am happy to say — there were no Jewish studies courses or any other Jewish programming on campus.

So when I began my rabbinical studies, I had almost no Hebrew training, and many of my classmates were well advanced in their knowledge of the language. Bridging that gap was the greatest academic challenge I have faced.

When I thought I couldn’t make it, Mr. Adams’ words came back to me. There are no excuses. Just work as hard as you can, and live with the results. Thank you Mr. Adams for that crucial lesson.

Prior to his becoming the first EOHS hockey coach, Mr. Adams had been a long time Assistant coach on EO’s outstanding varsity football team.

One of the legends of East Orange football was a young man named William “Junie” Walker.

Back in 1953 Walker picked up a fumble on his own two-yard line and rushed 98 years to seal EO’s victory over archrival and previously unbeaten Montclair. His heroics gave East Orange a share of the State Championship. There was a parade down Main Street, and it seemed the whole city turned out to celebrate the victory.

Six years later in 1959 “Junie” Walker died tragically. At the funeral, Mr. Adams told me, “ even though just a few years before, Junie Walker was the ‘Toast of East Orange,’ I was embarrassed that I was the only white person there. After all he did for our city, it just seemed like the right thing to do.” What an impression that left on me!

For Mr. Adams, there was only one race: the human race.

The second time Mr. Adams recruited me to Hamilton was in 1997 when he attended my installation as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut.

At the time he was Director of Hamilton College’s Elderhostel Program, and he invited me to be part of the, Another Day Another Scholar, series. Each fall for the next five years I would journey up to Hamilton, stay overnight, give three lectures the next day, and drive home that night. Although the trip was grueling, I loved teaching about “Genesis’ Earliest Stories.”

But the opportunity to see Mr. Adams and to spend some time with him really made those trips worthwhile for me.

Our tradition teaches that a good marriage is no accident. It is part of God’s plan. Mr. and Mrs. Adams shared a very special love.

For many years now Mr. Adams has missed the Mickey he fell in love with when she was a student at Rochester and he studied here.

It is eight years since she died, but she was ill for many years before that. Through all of those years, Mr. Adams devotion to and concern for her care never flagged.

Now, I like to imagine they are together again, both strong, both young, both in the full flower of youthful love.

I wish I had proof that it was so, but I know that as Dr Seuss once wrote, “It should be it should be it should be that way.”

Mr. Adams deserves nothing less. He deserves nothing less than the richest reward God can bestow. His memory will always be a blessing to me and to all of us who knew him.

 

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