Hoover Adams, perhaps North Carolina’s best known small-town editor, an intimate of Sen. Jesse Helms, and a political figure in his own right, died Sunday after a period of declining health. He was 92.
For 60 years Adams used the daily newspaper he founded, The Daily Record of Dunn, to chronicle the comings and goings of small-town life, whether in the news pages, or in his distinctive front page column “These Little Things.”
One day in 1995, when 15 people were killed in airplane crash at nearby Raleigh-Durham Airport, the lead story in The Daily Record was about a bear being hit by a pick-up truck. The headline read: “Bear Hit, Killed in Harnett.”
So successful was his formula, that The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2009 about The Daily Record having a readership penetration of 112 percent, the highest of any newspaper in the country as verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
“In this day and time, in a small town, everybody knows everybody, and they like to read about everybody,” Adams told the Journal. “I frequently say this is the only newspaper in the world that would print a picture of a local merchant for a local achievement. He cannot get that anywhere else.”
His passing was noted Monday by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-Winston-Salem.
“Hoover was a remarkable citizen and newsman who put the focus on local issues and local people in the community that meant so much to him,” Burr said in a statement. “Hoover will be missed, but his legacy and contributions to his community and his state will not be forgotten.”
It was Adams’ broad and long political connections that really made people sit up and take note. For decades there was hardly a candidate for state governor or the U.S. Senate, not to mention for local offices, who did not stop by to see Adams.
“I’ve known every Democratic politician from Clyde Hoey (governor, 1937-41) on,” Adams once remarked.
“Hoover Adams might not be William Allen White, but he’s as close as we have in Eastern North Carolina,” Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth once remarked, referring to the celebrated small-town Kansas editor.
Adams, whose politics were conservative, befriended both Democrats, such as former Sen. Robert Morgan, and Republicans, such as Faircloth and Helms.
He was particularly close to Helms, whose friendship dated back to the 1940s when they were both young reporters. They were both veterans of the famous, some would say infamous, 1950 Senate race, in which conservative Raleigh attorney Willis Smith defeated liberal Sen. Frank Porter Graham in the Democratic primary.
Adams was Smith’s press aide. He would say that the race-baiting in the campaign was done by county Smith committees, and that neither Smith nor Helms were ever involved.
Adams played a critical role in the campaign. Graham led the first primary with 48.9 percent, short of the majority he needed to clinch the nomination. Smith had initially drafted a telegram to Graham conceding the race, but Adams, disobeying his boss, pocketed the telegram and called a meeting of a handful of supporters to help Smith change his mind. Smith won a runoff.
‘I love Jesse Helms’
In 1985, Adams played a lead role in an effort by a Helms-affiliated group to take over CBS and become “Dan Rather’s boss.” Adams appeared a number of times on national TV to defend Helms.
“I love Jesse Helms like a brother,” Adams once remarked, “and I think he feels just as strongly about me.”
The Helms connections played out in some interesting ways. When Adams wanted a speaker for his local Rotary club, the Ukrainian ambassador made a five-hour trip down Interstate 95 from Washington.
He got fan mail from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he met through Helms.
Even without his Helms connections, Adams had a knack for talking his way into a room to meet the powerful and famous. Not many small-town publishers had conversations with Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher or Adlai Stevenson. He once wrote a letter to former President Herbert Hoover, saying he was named after him, asking for a five-minute meeting, and ended up with a 45-minute meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“Hoover might have some weaknesses, but timidity is not one of them,” Faircloth once quipped.
Even as a teenager, he saved his money to travel to New York to meet famous band leaders such as Guy Lombardo, Harry James and Benny Goodman. He would fill his columns with details of his travels to more than 60 countries.
But he would most often write about home, where he was a tireless promoter of Harnett County, Campbell University and the William C. Lee Airborne Museum. (Adams served as aide to Lee during World War II.)
When he drove his Cadillac down the street, people would wave. At lunch, people would fight over his check.
He is survived by wife Mellicent, children Brent Adams, Maere Kay Lashmit and Bart Adams, all of Dunn, and grandchildren.
The funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Gospel Tabernacle. Burial will follow in Greenwood Cemetery.