Prof. Donald G. Adam

Obituary from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Obituary from the Sunday Post-Gazette
Obituary from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Obituary from Chatham College


Donald G. Adam, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Chatham College, died early Wednesday morning, April 2, 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.

Funny Good Family

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.

14 thoughts on “Prof. Donald G. Adam

  1. From comments left at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

    April 8, 2008
    My deepest condolences go out to the family and loved ones of Dr. Adam. He helped to define my Chatham experience and make it special, and, like so many others, I will always feel grateful for knowing him. I have very fond memories of his classes and can still hear him bellowing “Onward and upward!” after each lecture. Dr. Adam will surely be missed, but his memory will live on at Chatham and through the countless students he has inspired.
    Christy Dennison (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 7, 2008
    As an English major, I was fortunate to have Dr. Adam once a semester, and I looked forward to each and every class. He challenged me intellectually and created an environment of curiosity and wonder. What a wonderful teacher, and a great man.
    Andrea Del Favero (Saltsburg, PA)

    April 6, 2008
    Dear Susan and Family-
    It is with great saddness and dismay that I send my condolences on the loss of Dr. Adam. I, like so many others, was a student of Dr. Adam’s. I think of him all the time and regret that I haven’t reached out to say hello and to say thank you to him. Dr. Adam was so much more than a wonderful teacher. In 1994, I was a new Junior to Chatham. I had transferred colleges, and was commutting to school. I was simply at Chatham to get my degree and to move on with life. I had a boyfriend, was getting married and had enough friends (so I thought). Chatham was my fastest way to the finish line. To my dismay, that finish line was going to require a great deal more than a sprint because of one dear sweet man, Dr. Adam. He slowed me in my tracks and forced me to believe that I deserved more than to race into adulthood without first examining who I was and what I had to offer the world. He took time to know me, to befriend me and to inspire me. He had me and my then fiance (now husband) to dinner in his home and we talked for hours that evening about poetry, life, meaning, and lessons learned. He talked about his children and showed us pictures. I remember, very vividly, that evening, him asking me, as he stroked his beard in thought, what I was in such a race to get to because “life flies by all on it’s own without your help.” I think of these words almost everyday of my life, with my 3 children now. Dr. Adam taught me to be humble, honest with myself and to always push myself tomorrow to be more than I was today, because I deserve more. He did what every mother hopes a teacher will do for her child, he took the time to believe in me so that I could believe in myself. This is a priceless gift. Dr. Adam was the best of the best. He taught so much more than English…he taught me to live my life without boundries. For this, I will always keep him in my heart.
    Kelly Hanna Riley (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 6, 2008
    Don Adam was at the core of the Chatham experience for those of us on campus in the mid-to-late 1970’s. He was also a wonderful role model to those of us who went on to faculty life. Oh the stories that will be told at the memorial service! Thanks to his family for sharing him with all of us over the years.
    Maryellen Kelly (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 5, 2008
    Dr. Adam was my academic advisor, my professor in many classes, my tutorial advisor, and my mentor. I went with him to London and to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and if I could have traveled more places with him, I would have. He was thrilling to be around, always teaching and inspiring. No teacher has ever meant as much to me or shaped my life as much as he did.
    Amy Scerba Karazsia (New York, NY)

    April 5, 2008
    My deepest sympathy to all of you. Dr. Adam had a tremendous impact on my life in the early seventies. He encouraged me to finish my degree and helped me find a job at Chatham to support myself as a single mother. He came to my wedding when I remarried and he was the first person I sought out to thank when I graduated.
    I will always remember him with love and respect.
    Kathy Reehl (Coraopolis, PA)

    April 5, 2008
    My deepest sympathy to the loved ones of Dr. Adam. He was an inspiring professor and very, very witty.
    Lisa Rivera (Wintersville, OH)

    April 5, 2008
    Dr. Adam will be missed, but everything he’s ever taught me will never be forgotten. He was my mentor, my champion, and my role-model. I think of him every time I teach at university now, hoping that I can be as good a teacher to my students as he was to all of us at Chatham.
    Bhuva Narayan (Brisbane, Australia)

    April 4, 2008
    I am also a former student of Dr. Adam’s. He encouraged me to be the teacher I am today. I will fondly remember our trips to Niagara on the Lake. His spirit will live in the hearts of all of his students.
    Bethany Fenyus (West Mifflin, PA)

    April 4, 2008
    Please accept my deepest symthany. We were colleagues at Chatham College. He will be missed.
    Marybeth Smith (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 4, 2008
    Dear Susan and entire family,

    I was honored to work with Dr. Adam for many years, and remember his great sense of humor. He would stop in the Helpdesk just to say hello to everyone and ask a few questions about his home computer. He will surely be missed by all of us who were blessed to know him. I will keep Don and his family in my prayers. God Bless!
    Elaine Ellison (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 4, 2008
    I was deeply saddened to hear of Doc Adam’s death. I was also one of the many students his life touched at Chatham…not only did I survive walking London with him but he served on my tutorial board and made me a much better writer. My thoughts and prayers go to all of his family.
    Amber Boucher-Keefer (Pittsburgh, PA)

    April 4, 2008
    Another former student, I was very fond of Dr. Adam, and will always remember him. Some of the things he said in Augustan Literature class have stayed with me my whole life. He was a good man. My sincere condolences to you.
    Missy Hall Nicholson (Grafton, MA)

    April 3, 2008
    to the Adam/Hamilton family.. i had the great honor of having Doc as a teacher at Chatham… he is an amazing person and did so much for his chatham ladies… he will be missed. much love, prayers, and thoughts out to all of you.
    Michele Davies-Turner (Cleveland, OH)

    April 3, 2008
    I am one of Doc Adam’s many former students– will never forget the way he brought the history of London to life for us, challenged us and laughed with us. He really knew how to live. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones.
    Sarah G. (Philadelphia, PA)

    April 3, 2008
    Dear Susan, Brad, and Don’s wonderful children,

    Don – charming, intelligent, gifted, active, brilliant, engaging, kind, thoughtful, giving, fun, loving, all these and so much more. What a Renaissance Man.
    I am sincerely sorry for your loss.
    Lu Abelson (Pittsburgh, PA)

  2. [Dr. Adam] was a beloved professor who was brilliant, quirky and passionate. He instilled in me a love for all things found across the pond during my two weeks chasing him in London for Chatham Abroad. I’ve spent the morning reminiscing with fellow Chatty women about our many and varied memories over e-mail and IM, alternately laughing and crying over our favorite professor.
    My thoughts and prayers go to you and your family.

  3. I was one of [Dr. Adam’s] students at Chatham, and even though I have been in school for a million years and have had the honor of being taught by a lot of very brilliant, dedicated people, your father has had the biggest impact on me and is, by far and away, my favorite. My favorite class with him, without a doubt, was Analysis and Detection. I will never read a mystery story again without evaluating it according to his rules. We had a paper competition for the much coveted Sherlock Award, and when I won, I was ecstatic… not because I had wanted the award so much, but because I always wanted so badly to impress him. I don’t think there was ever a moment when I wasn’t in awe of his intellect. Chasing him around London was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, and I was so emotionally touched by his poetry reading at Keats’ house that I promptly walked outside and fell spectacularly on the stones in the garden. Though I finised my degree in English, I am going to grad school for Anthropology, and my goal is to get my PhD and teach. If I can reach my students even half as effectively as Dr. Adam always did, I will consider myself a great success indeed. My heart goes out to you and your family. I am brokenhearted that I will never get to see him again, and I can’t imagine the loss you all must feel. He left a great legacy in my heart, and in the hearts of my classmates. He will be remembered fondly and missed.


  4. So sorry to hear of his death. I was one of his students at Chatham (including a trip to London) and will never forget him. My thoughts and my fellow alumnae’s will be with you and your family.

  5. Dear Andrew,

    You do not know me, but I know you well through the wonderful things Dr. Adam always said about you. He once told us that you wrote “druid” as your religion when you were asked to fill out a form at school! He was so proud of you.

    I was one of his students at Chatham who is currently researching my Ph.D. in Australia. I found out quite by accident and just spoke with Susan. The last I saw him was in April 2006 and he was as grouchy and as wonderful and as brilliant as ever although battling his aches and pains like a trooper. May his soul rest in peace.

    All my thoughts are with you and yours as you go through this inevitable feeling of void and pain. I felt the same void and pain when I lost my father not too long ago and can understand what you are going through. If it is any consolation, it took me some time before I realized that my father was still very much with me in so many ways–strong in my memory of all our times together, and even more *in* me as an expression of all that he’d taught by example, just as Dr. Adam did for me and for a countless other young women at Chatham. I think of Dr. Adam everyday when I teach at university here now
    and try to be as good a teacher to my students as he was to all of us.

    I miss my father still, but I do not grieve his going now. I hope these words will help you get through your grief and make you strong enough to celebrate Dr. Adam’s remarkable life–a generous and vibrant man who managed an instill a love of life and liberty into many a young woman, both young and old.

    Please accept my deepest condolences.


  6. To Dr. Adam’s family:

    Dr. Adam was a great professor. Aside from being brilliant and a great lecturer, he was witty and encouraging and non-judgmental. He also loved his family. I think he mentioned one of you during nearly every lecture. It was a pleasure to see him enjoying his life, setting an example to us all.

    The last time I saw him, we were at a party and he made several acute observations that I am pleased to carry forward from that particular occasion. He was erudite and witty as ever. Thanks, Dr. Adam.

    My thoughts are with you all as you mourn the loss of a great man.

    Lisa Rivera

  7. Druid?

    AKMA, I am saddened by your loss. May you all be upheld by angels at this time. Give my love to your family. You are in our prayers.

  8. you wrote “druid” as your religion when you were asked to fill out a form at school

    Ah, the sixties.
    As I recall, it was one of those “elementary school-tired-of-answering-questions-about-my-religiosity-or-lack-thereof” moments, which would have escaped notice if one of my classmates hadn’t been worried when I assured him I painted myself blue at Halloween.

  9. I think we’ve had the conversation about how you and my father grew up in the same part of Pittsburgh, and graduated from the same high school, Taylor Alderdice, though separated by about 30 years. But here I learned that your father grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, the same town I did. Though by the time I came along the part of town I lived in had been assigned to a different school district, so we missed attending the same high school. But nearly all my church youth group friends went to that high school. Too weird! Do you know more specifically where they lived? Were they associated with St. James Episcopal on Maple Road?

    You all continue in my prayers. Grace and peace.

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