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J. Allen Adams

1932 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
J. Allen Adams Obituary
Joseph Allen Adams

January 15, 1932 - March 24, 2017


Joseph Allen Adams, 85, died quickly and peacefully of sudden cardiac arrest on March 24, 2017, at his home in Cameron Park, Raleigh, North Carolina, as he was anticipating watching the broadcast of his beloved Tarheels in the NCAA basketball tournament. Born on January 15, 1932, in Greensboro, NC, Al was the son of Greensboro attorney Joseph Allen Adams and Red Cross executive Marion Crawford Adams.

With his father's early death in 1939 and his mother's Red Cross assignments up and down the east coast, Al attended primary and secondary schools at multiple locations in Virginia, Florida, and Maryland, capped by attending the Harvey School in Hawthorne, New York; the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire; and Cambridge High and Latin in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During those early years he acquired a love of sailing and boating during summers and holidays on the Chesapeake Bay while living at The Merrimac, a small hotel run by his three great aunts in Ocean View, Virginia. In an early moneymaking venture, Al rowed hotel guests out into the bay to fish, then swam back to shore, where he awaited their signal to swim back out and row them in with their catch.

After a year at Boston University, Al began a lifelong affiliation with the University of North Carolina, obtaining a BA from UNC Chapel Hill in 1952 in the span of three years and a LLB in 1954. But for Frank Porter Graham, Al could have started at UNC a year earlier—Graham told Al's mother that the then sixteen-year-old "little Allen" should be kept home one more year. During his UNC years, Al was on the "meatball" squad that played both offense and defense against the first stringers, scrimmaging with UNC legend Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice. He also began his long association with the Democratic Party as an officer of the Young Democrats. He was in the Sigma Nu fraternity and was a member of the North Carolina Law Review.

In 1953, Al married LeNeve Foster Hodges, a fellow UNC student from South Hill, Virginia, and in 1954 their first child, Ann Caroline Adams, was born in Chapel Hill. In March, 1955, Al reported to the U.S. Navy's Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and was commissioned as an Ensign on July 7, 1955, and went on to attend the Naval Justice School, also in Newport. However, rather than a coastal assignment as expected, he was assigned to be the legal officer of the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot in arid Hawthorne, Nevada, where he moved with LeNeve and Ann. In 1956, son Jefferson Hodges Adams was born. After completing active duty in 1958, Al settled in Raleigh and remained in the Naval Reserve, until his retirement around 1990 as a Captain. Al's third child, Spencer Allen Adams was born in 1962.

In 1977, Al married Betty Blomgren Eichenberger, an art professor at St. Mary's College. His family expanded to include five stepsons, Kurt, Peter, Tom, David, and John Eichenberger. Al somehow managed to blend his work and civic activities with family, often times with last minute invitations to events or to the family beach cottage in Emerald Isle, where he kept a series of boats and engaged in often-questionable do-it-yourself projects.

From 1958-1967, Al was an associate and ultimately a partner at what became the Young, Moore, Henderson, & Adams law firm in Raleigh. From 1959 to 1964 he also served as a solicitor and a substitute judge with the Wake County Domestic and Juvenile Court. In 1968, he joined Terry Sanford, Hugh Cannon, Bill McCullough and John Beard in the firm that evolved into Sanford, Adams, McCullough and Beard, recognized for its litigation, legislative, and public finance practices. In 1990, the firm merged with a larger Charlotte firm to create Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein. Throughout his legal career, Al had a varied general, administrative, lobbying, and litigation practice.

Beginning in 1975, Al served five two-year terms in the House of Representatives, where he chaired the Appropriations Committee (Base Budget) and was member of the Governor's Advisory Budget Commission. He was rated one of the House's most effective members, second only to the Speaker of the House, and was the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers' Legislator of the Year in 1980. For Al, among his proudest legislative accomplishments was the program arranging for public beach access points along the coast. There are now more than 280 beach and waterfront access sites.

Al decided not to run for a sixth term in order to devote more time to his law practice. He went on to leverage his understanding of state government to aid clients before the legislature and executive departments as a lobbyist on transportation issues, business and industry, the arts, education, health care, and other community concerns, with clients including telecom, technology, medical, environmental, and other commercial enterprises and the Triangle Transit Authority, the Consulting Engineers Council, the Arts Advocates of North Carolina, the NC Biotechnology Center, the NC Citizens for Community Action, the NC Head Start Association, the Affordable Housing Coalition, North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, and the NC Retired Governmental Employees Association. For many years, the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research ranked Al among the top two to three most influential lobbyists.

Concurrently, Al was chairman from 1981-83 of the North Carolina Bar Association Committee on Legislation and Law Reform, president of the Downtown Business Association, a director of the NC Museum of History Associates, a member of UNC-FM's Community Advisory Council, and a trustee of the NC Symphony. He served on the boards of the NC Symphony Society, the Raleigh City Museum, NC Child Advocacy, the Opera Company of North Carolina, Wake Technical Community College Foundation, and the Raleigh Civil Service Commission. He helped to found the Arts Advocates of NC, the Clarence Lightner Youth Leadership Endowment, and the Martin Luther King Resource Center. He served as chairman of the UNC Board of Visitors during 1989-90 and as chairman of the UNC General Alumni Association's Board of Directors during 1994-95. From 1993 to 2001, he was chairman of the USS North Carolina Battleship Commission, and served on the commission thereafter. Earlier in his life, Al was a Sunday school teacher and chairman of the finance committee at the United Church of Raleigh.

Al was a Democrat, but had great rapport with his conservative and Republican colleagues. He served as the Wake County Democratic Chair, closely shepherded his precinct, and was a delegate to the 1976 Democratic Convention. Al's zest for politics was likely inherited from his grandfather, Spencer Bell Adams, a Yanceyville and later Greensboro attorney, who held various elected court positions and chairmanship of the Republican party, and who in 1900 was the Republican candidate for governor, losing to Democrat Charles B. Aycock in a campaign in which Judge Adams' opponents promoted white supremacy, intimidation, and disenfranchisement.

Al moved to the Cameron Park neighborhood in 1960 and remained there for the rest of his life. He was a key player in preserving Cameron Park, saving the neighborhood for families from deterioration and conversion into fraternity and sorority houses, apartments, and offices. Al was instrumental in creating the Cameron Park Association and served as president and helped others in historic neighborhoods, such as Oakwood in Raleigh, to block development and other threats to preservation.

Al was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. His name appears on a 1963 pledge signed by residents of Raleigh, in which they vowed to continue to support and to patronize those businesses which abolished the practice of segregation, and to urge others to do likewise. He successfully advocated for integration of the Wake County Bar Association in the 1960s. The law firm in which he was a partner, then Sanford, Adams, McCullough and Beard, was one of the first to hire African American and women attorneys. As first Chairman of the Wake County Public Libraries Board he presided over the merger of the separate white and black libraries, and as chairman of the Estey Hall Foundation at Shaw University, he helped to preserve the nation's first structure built for the higher education of black women. In 1975, while in the legislature, he voted with the members of the Wake County delegation for the merger of the Wake County and Raleigh City Schools, and helped to foster the cooperation across racial lines that made the merger a success.

Al understood the importance of low, state-subsidized tuition, the arts, and public transportation, and that university research was an important economic engine for the state. He actively supported these goals in the legislature, as a lobbyist, and as a citizen. In 1996, the UNC General Alumni Association awarded him its Distinguished Service Medal, with the citation noting: "There has never been a more effective friend of Carolina in Raleigh." In 2002, Al was presented with the P. R. Latta Volunteer of the Year Award by the Wake County Young Democrats, and in 2007, he received the Wake County Bar Association's Justice Joseph Branch Professionalism Award. Then, on October 1, 2012, Al was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments in law, public service, and civic leadership, as a "powerful advocate for equality and justice, arts and education, and cultural institutions serving the City of Raleigh and the State of North Carolina."

Al is survived by his three children and their spouses, Ann (Bill) Borden, Jeff (Dorota) Adams, and Spencer (Dennise) Adams; four stepchildren and their spouses, Kurt (Donna Anderson) Eichenberger, Tom (Christine Murphy) Eichenberger, David (Jennifer) Eichenberger, and John (Amy Roessel) Eichenberger; and twelve grandchildren, David Eichenberger, Stefan Gruber, Caroline (Luke) Hallam, Eva Gruber, James Borden, Kevin Eichenberger, Ethan Eichenberger, Erin Eichenberger, Morgan Adams, Will Eichenberger, Carmen Eichenberger, and Lauren Eichenberger. Al was preceded in death by his wife, Betty Adams, first wife, LeNeve Adams, and stepson, Peter Eichenberger.

A celebration of Al's life will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. Al will be interred in the Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, NC.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Al's memory to any deserving charity.
Published in The News & Observer on Apr. 2, 2017
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