Donald G. Adam, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Chatham College, died early Wednesday morning at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. He had been hospitalized for treatment of pulmonary fibrosis.
Dr. Adam was born in Cleveland in 1935, the eldest child of Malcolm G. Adam and Lois Lane Adam. The family — now including younger brother Richard — subsequently moved to Birmingham, Michigan, where the boys graduated from Birmingham High School. Donald graduated from Birmingham High School in 1953, receiving several academic honors.
He attended Harvard College from 1953-1956 and 1958-59, receiving an A.B. in English in 1959. While at Harvard, he became involved with the Cambridge theater community, in connection with which he met Nancy Jackson Tuttle of Radcliffe College, whom he married in January 1957. Their son Andrew was born later that year, and their daughter Elizabeth Hollister (Holly) Adam in 1959.
After participating in the Bread Loaf School of English in 1959 and teaching at the Dutchess School (1958-59), he enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Rochester, where he studied English literature. He served as a part-time lecturer in English at Rochester between 1961 and 1963, and he assisted with editorial responsibilities for William Gilman’s edition of the Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson (with special responsibility for Greek and Latin references). He also began his work with the Essential Articles series, in which he assisted with the preparation of volumes on English Augustan Backgrounds (1962), Alexander Pope (1964; rev. ed. 1968), John Dryden (1966), Old English Poetry (1967), and Francis Bacon (1969). He was awarded honors as a University Scholar from 1959 to 1962, and as a University Fellow from 1960 to 1962. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1963 with a Ph.D. in English, for a dissertation entitled “John Dryden’s Prose Achievement.”
Dr. Adam and his family next moved to Brunswick, Maine, where he held positions as Instructor, then Assistant Professor of English at Bowdoin College.
After three years in Maine, Dr. Adam was offered a position at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, where he began teaching in 1966 as Assistant Professor of English and retired in 2002 at the rank of Professor. During his thirty-six years at Chatham, he held the Buhl Professorship in 1974-75, 1987-88, and 2001-2002; he chaired the English Department from 1975 to 1980, and the Communications Program from 1973 to 1975. He served Chatham in innumerable administrative capacities (from tireless recruiting to leadership of the Promotions and Tenure Committee), but was especially known for his work as a teacher and mentor. He offered courses on Composition, on The Rise of the Novel, on Comedy, on Shakespeare, on architecture, on computers, and on dozens of other topics.
In the late seventies, he and Nancy Adam were divorced. In 1979, he married Cecilia Sommers, then station manager of WQED FM, bringing into his life her children Christopher O’Riley, Virgina O’Riley, Murphy O’Riley, and Matthew O’Riley. During these years, Dr. Adam curated the Pittsburgh appearance of the “Shakespeare: The Globe and the World” exhibition that presaged the resurgence of interest in Shakespeare in the 1980’s and 90’s. He worked as a script editor on the Once Upon A Classic series production of “The Leatherstocking Tales.” He appeared occasionally on WQED FM and TV, contributed articles to Pittsburgh magazine, and edited and introduced the book of photographs by Lynne Johnson and Joel Levinson, Pittsburgh Moments.
In the late eighties, Dr. Adam and Ms. Sommers divorced. Dr. Adam continued his active teaching, placing particular emphasis on leading courses that culminated in travel, leading groups of students to drama festivals in Canada and England, and developing a well-known walking tour of literary London.
In 1993, on one of his tours of England, Dr. Adam met Susan Hamilton, in whose company he found particular delight. They found a home together, where they gardened, cooked, and kept an eye on Pittsburgh sports and arts activities. He retired from full-time teaching at Chatham in 2002, but continued to teach as an adjunct instructor.
Chatham professor ‘was bigger than life’
By Bill Zlatos
Donald G. Adam taught about 30 different courses in his 42 years at Chatham University — everything from English literature to computers.
“He was bigger than life,” said a colleague, Tom Hershberger, former vice president of Chatham and now a professor of psychology there. “He was inspiring. He had a broad range of knowledge and interests.”
Mr. Adam of Point Breeze died Wednesday, April 2, 2008, of pulmonary fibrosis at UPMC Shadyside. He was 72.
Mr. Adam was born in Cleveland and moved to Detroit. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University and a doctorate in English from the University of Rochester in New York.
He arrived at what was then Chatham College in 1966 and retired as faculty emeritus in 2002 but continued to teach as an adjunct professor. He especially enjoyed teaching Japanese students English.
“He not only taught English literature; he also taught people how to think about literature and life,” Hershberger said.
Mr. Adam led trips abroad, especially to England, where he met his future companion, Susan Hamilton, in 1993.
“He liked to cook,” said Hamilton, 63, of Point Breeze. “He liked to read and do crossword puzzles and grouch about the world of politics.”
He was such an avid Italian chef that he once accompanied his daughter, Holly, of Greenwich, Conn., on a cooking trip to Tuscany.
In addition to his companion and daughter, survivors include a son, A K M Adam of Princeton, N.J.; a brother, Richard, of Albuquerque, N.M.; and a stepsister, Carol Clark of Amherst, Mass.
The Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home in Squirrel Hill is handling the arrangements.
The funeral will be private. A memorial service is being planned.