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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Gerald Adams: A Multi-Faceted Man

October 25, 2008

Gerald Adams is a gubernatorial vicar. He's a guardian of the palace. He's also a headhunter, chief "firefighter" and confidant. In short, Adams is chief of staff for Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry. In that role, he acts as the Governor's surrogate, doorkeeper, recruiter, crisis coordinator and trusted advisor.

"The job obviously requires the wearing of many hats, but it is a great, unique job, and I am very grateful that Governor Henry gave me the opportunity," said Adams, a Shawnee, Okla., resident and a member of the OBU Class of 1978.

The son of OBU alums, Laddie Adams, '53, and Nita Owens Adams, ex '54, Gerald grew up in Oklahoma Baptist life. His father served for many years on church staffs and with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. From his father, Gerald gained a love for the outdoors.

"I love to fly fish," he said. "My dad put a fly rod in my hand when I was a little kid, and I will always be thankful to him for that. I still love to fish with my dad and my son.

"I like to hunt quail and pheasant," he added. "I love to read. I love great music and art. And I feel good when I mow my yard, although my neighbor John Parrish (OBU's interim president) probably wishes I did that more often."

At OBU, Adams said, the faculty provided an environment of concern, support and understanding which allowed him to grow.

"Probably the most important thing OBU did for me was to open my mind, to present horizons I'd never before encountered," he said. "I learned I could be both grounded in my own beliefs and tolerant of others. What resulted in me, I hope, was a person not afraid of thinking in a bigger way, in a more comprehensive fashion, about policies and initiatives that could have an impact."

Adams also learned OBU faculty provided accountability for young adults with expanding horizons. His sophomore year, he took an 8 a.m. Shakespeare class taught by his adviser, Dr. Shirley Jones. He slept in and missed three of the first few classes.

"One morning in about the third week, she called me at 7:30: 'Mr. Adams, I have so missed seeing your bright, shiny face, and I couldn't bear it if I had to teach another day without you. So I will see you in 30 minutes,'" he recalled. "She kept calling. And I didn't miss any more of her classes."

He also developed meaningful friendships with Dr. Jim Hurley, Dr. Joe Hall, Max Brattin, and many others who have served on OBU's faculty and staff.

"For me, the opportunity to have formed those kinds of relationships was an important part of my OBU education."

Adams didn't shy away from the social side of campus life, either. As a member of the Sigma Delta Phi social club, he remembered a specific pledge-year prank involving a campus security car, graffiti and axle-deep mud, displayed for the student body to see on the lawn of Raley Chapel before Wednesday's weekly Chapel service. Adams admitted the joke went overboard, but is grateful the dean of students didn't prosecute the offenders.

"There are respectable people like doctors, ministers and professors who were in that pledge class and participated in that event, but I'll not name names, just in case the statute of limitations hasn't run," Adams joked.

Since his time on Bison Hill, Adams has distinguished himself as a journalist, communications professional, civic servant and governmental spokesperson. It's been an interesting career path for the one-time English major who, during his time at OBU, had no concrete idea where he would wind up after graduation.

"I was fascinated with government, to be sure," Adams said. "My mother worked for David Boren for 22 years, and I was always very interested in what she was doing. I became, and still am, very good friends with a number of OBU students who ultimately staffed his offices when he was Governor and U.S. Senator."

Adams considered seminary, law school and graduate school, but in the end, he chose to work close to his alma mater. He worked at the Shawnee News-Star, then at OBU in the admissions and public relations areas prior to venturing into the government sector. In addition to running political campaigns for friends, Adams became the communications director for three different Oklahoma attorneys general: Robert Henry, Susan Loving and Drew Edmondson.

After many years of public service, Adams made the decision to go to work for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation shortly before his friend of many years, Shawnee native Brad Henry, asked him to join his administration as Chief of Staff.

During his time with the Governor's office, Adams has overseen and led many crucial initiatives for the State of Oklahoma. He has witnessed historic events. He has advocated for the cause of higher education.

While Adams excels in his current occupation -- juggling the many hats as the Governor's right-hand man -- he also is a family man. His wife, Leesa Rose Adams, '78, teaches fourth grade in Shawnee Public Schools. The couple has two children, Zachary, age 19, and Katherine, age 14. Adams is a member of the First Baptist Church of Shawnee, where he serves as a deacon and trustee.

Despite an impressive career and numerous related awards, Adams hasn't forgotten the roots of his adulthood: his time on Bison Hill.

"In my experience, OBU is a wonderful place -- a small, liberal arts university with an impressive faculty and a great tradition," he said. "I loved my time there."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.