J. Allen “Al” Adams, remembered as a longtime progressive voice in North Carolina politics, died Friday at his home in Raleigh’s Cameron Park neighborhood. He was 85.
Adams was an attorney and five-term member of the state House of Representatives. Colleagues and family remember him as a stalwart Democrat who fought for public education and helped integrate the Wake County Bar Association.
“Al Adams was one of the finest progressive political leaders in North Carolina history,” former Gov. Jim Hunt said Saturday.
“He was always energized by a good political fight, which he generally won,” the former governor said, remembering the time they spent together during Hunt’s four terms as governor while Adams was first a state representative and then a lobbyist.
“He was a real fighter for what needed to be done. I was lucky to be on the same side with him,” Hunt said.
Catharine Arrowood, an attorney who worked with Adams for the better part of four decades, remembered Adams for not just preaching equality, but practicing it.
Adams and Terry Sanford, a former governor and U.S. senator, hired Arrowood in 1976 at a law firm that was a predecessor to the Parker Poe law firm. It was a time, she said, when “they were not hiring girls as litigators.”
“He and Terry Sanford are the reason I am where I am,” she said.
In the 1960s, she said, Adams helped lead the charge to integrate the Wake County Bar Association. “It took years to get a vote,” she said, but Wake’s association integrated before the state bar association.
In a statment released Saturday evening Governor Roy Cooper said of Adams: "Al Adams never shied away from fighting for what he believed. He made a positive difference for everyday North Carolinians and we all will miss him."
Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a partner in Parker Poe with Arrowood and Adams, remembered his former colleague’s passion for public education and health care.
“He always sided with the underdog,” Meeker said.
Beyond the courthouse and the legislature, Adams had a large family and a home in Cameron Park.
Meeker remembered Adams’ love of sailing and of the family’s vacation home on Emerald Isle, including tales of his “adventures and misadventures ‘on the high seas’ ” sailing off the Outer Banks.
Adams had a series of sailboats, each named The Boat Democratic.
Adams had one daughter, two sons and five stepsons.
“Allen had this absolute passion about life,” John Eichenberger, one of his stepsons, said.
Arrowood recalled Adams’ passion for the arts, especially opera. He was a season ticket holder at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but it was the Opera Company of North Carolina, what would later become the North Carolina Opera, in 2008 that showed its appreciation for his support by asking him to appear as the cook in the first act of Madame Butterfly.
“They did not give him a singing part,” she added.
Adams was preceded in death by his wife, Betty Eichenberger Adams, and stepson Peter Eichenberger. He is survived by two sons, one daughter, four stepsons and 12 grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.
Charles Duncan: 919-829-4880, @duncanreporting