Here are the remarks that I was privileged to make at Al Adams' Memorial Service on April 9, 2017. I am grateful to Al's family for asking me to participate alongside Charles Meeker, Dan Blue Jr., Betsy Buford and Tom Eichenberger.
I am humbled and honored to have been asked to share some memories of Al today; after all memories are what a memorial service is all about. The ones I have chosen are not about the weary and ill Al of recent times. Rather, they are of the vigorous and exuberant Al Adams alongside whom I was privileged to practice law.
In the interest of time, I have eliminated all of the anecdotes that came to mind during the preparation of these remarks. I hope they may kindle stories of your own; if so, go home, pour yourself a drink, and tell them to each other.
I learned a lot from Al. For example, he taught me that when you go to court, you should always be respectful of the judge, even if he or she rules against you, and that you should always introduce yourself to the courtroom clerk, the bailiff and the court reporter and thank them for their service.
Al also taught me that a proper refrigerator always had in it a bottle of gin and a jar of Zatarain’s creole mustard.
Most of all, Al taught me although law is a serious business, life need not be.
Frankly, I don’t remember many details, and in some cases even the outcomes, of the many legal cases that Al and I worked on together. What I DO remember is the fun we had, especially when our work took us to New York and other places where Al could indulge two of his great passions: good food and grand opera.
Al loved to eat. His appetite was prodigious, his tastes in food were eclectic and ecumenical, and he seemed to know the best places to eat in every city and town in the country, from Southport to San Francisco. The best thing about eating with him was the palpable and infectious enjoyment that he displayed, regardless of whether we were dining at a fancy New York restaurant or having lunch at Green’s Garner Grill. For Al, every meal was an event.
Some of Al’s gusto for food probably was attributable to the fact that he liked to preface a meal with a martini (or two). He made me the first one I had ever had, straight up with a twist, which is how I like them to this day.
Al enjoyed feeding others as much as he enjoyed feeding himself. He loved hosting his annual pre-Christmas party, which drew dozens (sometimes hundreds) of friends to stand outside in the cold and eat steamed or raw oysters and Smithfield ham on saltine crackers topped with his famous rémoulade sauce. He also loved mixing Bloody Marys, cranking out oyster omelets, and otherwise acting as the impresario of the Sunday brunch at Betty’s Emerald Isle beach house that was, for most of us, the highlight of our annual firm retreats.
As Betsy noted, Al also loved the opera, a fascination that he attributed to his mother. As a relatively young widow who supported herself and him on her salary as a “Red Cross lady,” she didn’t have the wherewithal or the opportunity to attend the opera, but every Saturday afternoon during the season she would tune the radio to Texaco’s broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s matinee performance, filling her house and his head with music that he grew to love. If we were traveling to New York on business, he invariably would consult the Met’s calendar before scheduling client meetings and depositions. He was mesmerized by every performance from the moments the lights went up until the curtain descended on the dying or dead hero or heroine. Italian opera was his favorite. A well-rendered Puccini aria like “Un bel di” could practically lift him out of his seat, and could engender an elbow in his companion’s ribs. They call it “grand opera,” he said, “because it really is grand.”
Al was particularly proud of the fact that we were in the house for a performance of “Aida” on the night that Jimmy Carter became the first, and to date the only, sitting president to attend a performance at the Met. Al said, “I can’t imagine a Republican president doing something like that.”
Food and the opera were only two of the things Al loved.
Above all, of course, he loved his Betty. In fact, he adored her, and her sudden and unexpected death left him bereft.
He loved his family and gloried in his children, step-children and grandchildren.
He loved his friends, including everyone who is here today and the many others who are no longer with us.
He loved his country. He was proud of his Navy service, and when he arrived at his and Betty’s beach house for the weekend the first thing he did was raise the American flag.
He loved his State, which he served so well, and flew its flag, too.
Al loved his university. I don’t recall ever hearing him refer to a Carolina football or basketball team as anything except his “beloved Tar Heels.” One of his great heroes was UNC president Frank Porter Graham, with whom he shared the quaint notion that the Sermon on the Mount was a statement of sound social policy.
He loved Cameron Park, and through the Cameron Park Association, which he created, he worked tirelessly to rid it of the rooming houses and rental properties that had crept in, bringing with them the threat of neighborhood blight.
He loved his house on Woodburn road and enjoyed recounting its history. When he and Betty reluctantly decided to downsize, he sold the house to Joyce Fitzpatrick and Jay Stewart on the condition that he had veto power over any of their political yard signs. (A right that he exercised only once.) At the closing, he cried.
He loved sailing. Of all my many happy times we spent together, none was happier than my week-long sailing trip to the Virgin Islands in 1988 with Al, Betty and the late Heman Clark.
The point is that Al simply loved life. Indeed, he loved it so fully, and lived it so ebulliently, there are too many such memories to recall or recount at one sitting, or even in one day. He himself once summed it up perfectly as we sat on his porch drinking our martinis. “I have,” he said, “the best time of anyone I know.”
Indeed he did. And because he did, those of us who were fortunate enough to be his friends and neighbors and colleagues had a great time, too.