Campus mourns passing of distinguished alum, benefactor John Q. Adams

This week, our campus mourns the passing of Mr. John Q. Adams ’58, whose contributions to student success and indeed, Heidelberg’s success, are ever-present all around us. Below is the campus announcement from President Rob Huntington. 

January 24, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

Today, our hearts are extremely heavy.  We received the very sad news of the passing of one of Heidelberg University’s most distinguished alumni, a highly successful entrepreneur, and HU benefactor John Q. Adams ’58.  John passed away peacefully early Sunday morning, January 21, 2024, at his home in Colleyville, Texas, surrounded by his family, following extended health challenges.  He was 87 years old.  His passing comes almost exactly one year after the death of his beloved wife, Patricia.  In the heartwarming spirit of John’s introduction of himself at our Patricia Adams Lecture Series keynote dinners, Mr. Pat and Mrs. Pat Adams are together again.

Many of you know John from his regular presence on our campus as he returned for every Patricia Adams Lecture Series event since PALS was founded in 2010 and from his talks in Heidelberg business classes through the years.  But perhaps his most extraordinary legacy is as a visionary Board of Trustees member and significant benefactor to the alma mater which he so deeply loved.  On our campus, we are grateful to have not only PALS, but Adams Hall and the Adams Academic All-America Plaza in front of Hoernemann Stadium, both named in John’s honor after he provided significant gifts to strengthen Heidelberg’s academic programming and to recognize academic excellence.

John is many things to many people, but foremost, he never forgot those who helped him along the way.  He had a deep appreciation for the value of his liberal arts education, which he never failed to express.  He was grateful to his Heidelberg professors and mentors, including the late Dr. Percy Lilly, who went the extra mile to help a struggling kid make ends meet and who taught him critical thinking skills, setting goals and sticking to them, and sound business acumen.  While an undergrad biology major and member of Sigma Tau Nu, John was always supported by Pat as he balanced an off-campus job, coursework, and playing football for the iconic Coach Paul “The Fox” Hoernemann. Later, as a Trustee, John was a huge advocate for the National Center for Water Quality Research and a strong supporter of the NCWQR founder and his classmate, Dr. Dave Baker, whom he also admired tremendously.  

We are profoundly proud of John for his legendary 50-year professional career in the pharmaceutical industry.  Following his graduation in the Class of ’58 with the likes of Dr. Baker, Dr. Jim Getz and Dr. David Drake, John carved out his niche in the pharmaceutical industry, most notably the prescription respiratory field, climbing the ladder from salesman to company ownership.  He bought and sold four pharmaceutical companies, including Adams Laboratories, which used exhaustive market research to secure exclusive FDA approval for the best-selling medication Mucinex.  John also founded the award-winning Rough Creek Lodge in Texas and he served as the president of J.Q Enterprises Inc., a holding company for his varied interests.  Throughout his career, he attributed much of his professional success to his undergraduate foundation at Heidelberg and frequently took advantage of opportunities to pay it forward by sharing his business knowledge and expertise with our students by serving as a guest speaker in class, a guest panelist at a career forum, or as an executive-in residence on our campus.  He penned an autobiography, “The Rx of My Wonderful Life,” published in 2020.

John’s love for his alma mater knew no boundaries.  In Heidelberg’s 173-plus-year history, there have been no greater champions for our students than John and Pat Adams.  At the time, his commitment of $2 million toward the renovation of the former Laird Hall into Adams Hall – a new state-of-the-art, corporate-style home for the School of Business – was the largest single gift from a living alum in Heidelberg’s history.  In addition to PALS, he and Pat also provided funding to establish the Adams Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Business.  Through giving to his alma mater, he set a high standard and then exceeded it time and again, always with the goal of moving Heidelberg forward and upward.  In addition to the aforementioned Adams Academic All-America Plaza to support Hoernemann Stadium, John was instrumental in helping to fund construction of the Saurwein Health & Wellness Center and he spear-headed the funding for the interior and exterior renovation and beautification of Pfleiderer Center.

I learned about John’s philanthropic spirit and fierce drive to succeed early in my Heidelberg career.  Near the end of the presidential search interview process in fall 2008, I recall John asking me about my philanthropy (my giving) and fundraising (my getting).  He said two things that I heard him say many times over the years that followed, “We need everyone’s skin in the game and we gotta move fast to accomplish goals.”  After getting hired and then starting in July 2009, I understood more about the “Laird Hall into Business School” project and about John’s sense of urgency to “get it going.”  On a nearly full-size bus speeding down a Texas freeway that John had chartered for all of the Trustees, administration, and family members attending Dr. Dominic Dottavio's Tarleton State University Inauguration in October 2009, John stood up with the bus microphone and announced, “After talking to our Board Chair Sondra Libman and our new president Rob, we have the plan to start the Business School renovation soon.  Anyone who is not on board with this plan can get off the bus now!”  Susan and I made our first Heidelberg capital gift for that building sometime that fall, we began the renovation two days after our Inauguration in November, we finished the fundraising in December, and Adams Hall opened in August 2010.  Mr. Adams was a very persuasive salesman.    

John and Pat were long-time members of the Fellows Organization.  In 2007, he joined the Board of Trustees, serving two, four-year terms.  As a Trustee, John was doggedly persistent.   He asked tough questions.  He always stood his ground.  And it always felt personal.  He took my strategic planning question to the campus and the Board in 2010 … “Why Heidelberg?” … and asked it back, very personally, more than anyone else over the years, “Why Heidelberg, Rob?”  In 2012, he was recognized with the Trustee Distinguished Service Award for the depth and breadth of his commitment, high level of engagement, helpful counsel, leadership, vision, and rising generosity to the University.  In addition to his Trustee committee assignments, John also volunteered to serve as a tri-chair for the Academic Comprehensive Campaign for Excellence, which, at $77.2 million, remains the most successful fundraising campaign in Heidelberg’s history.  For his lifetime achievements that exemplify the traditions, ideals, strengths, and values of private higher education, John was only the third HU alum (at the time) to be inducted into the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges Hall of Excellence in 2009.  He also was the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award – the highest alumni honor – in 2018.

Through personal gifts and grants from the Adams Family Foundation, John and Pat are among the highest givers in Heidelberg history with cumulative giving exceeding $7.5 million.  Their names are listed twice in the Builders and Benefactors 1850 Society.  They are also members of the Heidelberg Heritage Society.

John is survived by children Sherri Adams and John Jr.; eight grandchildren; eleven great-grandchildren; and siblings Frank Adams, Ann Keffer, Mary Van Steenbergh and Chuck Adams.  In addition to losing Pat a year ago, he was preceded in death by his daughter, Cindy Adams.  Bluebonnet Hills Funeral Home & Memorial Park in Colleyville is assisting the family with arrangements. You can read John’s obituary here.  The family suggests memorial contributions to the John and Patricia Adams Foundation.

John was always quick with a heart-warming smile, a bear hug the size of Texas, and the strongest handshakes.  Just as he was eternally grateful to Heidelberg, we are eternally grateful for the impact of his generosity, which has touched so many areas of the campus, so many students, and so many in our extended Heidelberg family.

Whenever John called me, and I would guess at least 100 times over the past 15 years, he rarely got me directly and always left the same message, “Hi Rob, this is John Adams.  Call me when you can.  Thank you.”  I always did call back.  And it is painful realizing that I can never do that again.

Please join me in expressing condolences from our entire campus community to Sherri, John Jr., and their families.  We will miss our once-in-a-lifetime friend – one of the finest, most endearing, and generous human beings to have ever graced the life of our institution.


Rob Huntington signature

Rob Huntington

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