I first met Doug Adams when I was a freshman at Cholla High School. I probably met him on the first day of classes in 1970.
He likely welcomed me — and all the other students — before the first morning bell to the still new and unfinished campus on Tucson’s west side, behind “A” Mountain. I’m sure he greeted me with a wide smile, endearing, energetic. No doubt he spread his arms wide and wished us all a great school year.
Knowing Mr. Adams, our vice principal, I can’t imagine him any other way. I bet Cholla students who were lucky to be Chargers during Mr. Adams’ 13 years at the school would agree.
This past week I’ve been thinking about Mr. Adams. Last week Cholla alumni posted Facebook messages about his declining health.
Saturday he passed away at a Green Valley hospice. His wife, Margaret Ann Adams, and his family were with him. He was 91.
Cholla Nation is in mourning.
“Mr. Adams gathered us together from vastly different backgrounds and treated us all with the same value,” Susan Erickson Hemm, a classmate of mine living in Glendale, wrote me last week. “His smile and excitement about us were infectious.”
That smile did wonders and I always wondered how he managed it. Think about it: Mr. Adams had to deal with gaggles of hormone-fueled teenagers and he always flashed a smile.
Oh, he had his game face — a stern look followed by a few sharp, clipped words. That worked, too. But we knew Mr. Adams always had our backs.
“I wanted to work with young people to make a difference in their lives. I believed I could make a difference in their lives,” Mr. Adams wrote me Thursday.
He was a daily, visible figure at the school. The campus was his office. He boosted our spirits when they slackened. He scooted us to class when we dawdled. He encouraged us when we needed it and and he reprimanded us when we deserved it.
He did it all with a sincere smile and he called us by our names.
Mr. Adams wrote that greeting students in morning and seeing them them off in the afternoon were some of his favorite duties while at Cholla, from 1969 when it opened to 1982 when he retired after 35 years in public education.
“Celebrating the successes of the students, learning to be a family together. No matter how painful or joyful, we could talk about anything,” Mr. Adams wrote. “This made our little community a working atmosphere for human growth and development.”
Years after he left Cholla, to join his wife in a joint counseling group, he still remembered names and faces of former students.
When Charley Brown attended a Cholla multi-class reunion in 2011, his first time back since his 1981 graduation, he was surprised that Mr. Adams remembered him.
“I didn’t feel like a big student,” Brown told me over the phone. “He was a master at making people feel important because he really felt they were important.”
Brown, a corporate video editor, make a video of Mr. Adams that captures him how we remember him: jovial, positive and smiling.
While Mr. Adams dealt with parents and staff at Cholla, his true interest was getting to know students, to “make sure I knew their name, their neighborhood if I could and, if possible, know one or two classes they’re in so I could find them in a hurry if I had to,” he said in the video.
Mr. Adams knew us but we didn’t know about his heroism and service to country. Right out of his Nebraska high school in 1943, he joined the Army Air Corps. He served as a tail gunner on a B-17. During World War II, stationed in England, he flew 33 missions over Germany.
Mr. Adams returned home, where he taught briefly, and then headed to Oregon to earn a master’s degree and teach in Eugene for eight years. When he came to Tucson to continue his studies in administration, he taught at Pueblo High School and became assistant principal at Safford Junior High before moving to Cholla.
Mr. Adams wasn’t the only educator to make Cholla special in those early years. From its geometric-shaped buildings to its break-the-mold curriculum, the staff hired by Mr. Adams and principal Herb Waesch had bought into the schools’ cutting-edge approach.
But for us Cholla kids, Mr. Adams was the glue that held us together.
Elsa Corral-Aguirre, a 1978 graduate who became a classroom teacher and principal at Cavett Elementary School, said Mr. Adams was her role model.
“He really taught me the importance of having a connection with every single student,” she said.
Although Mr. Adams was always on the move around campus, Corral-Aguirre said, he was “never was too busy to stop and say hello.”
A Cholla legend has passed. But there is something we can do.
Regardless of where you attended school, to honor Mr. Adams and committed educators like him, contact a teacher, a coach, an administrator who nurtured you, took interest in you, who made a difference in your life, no matter how big or small, and thank them.
Thank you, Mr. Adams.