Yale University

In Memoriam

Alvin P. Adams, Jr.

Al died on October 10, 2015.  Below are three obituaries, from The New York Times, The Oregonian (Portland, OR), and The Washington Post. Classmates may sign the Washington Post's online guest book until 12/10/15.


Obituary, The New York Times


Al Adams
1964 graduation

October 17, 2015

Alvin P. Adams Jr., Ambassador Who Helped Haiti Pursue Democracy, Dies at 73

Alvin P. Adams Jr., an American envoy and champion of human rights who was instrumental in nudging Haiti toward democracy, died on Oct. 10 at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 73.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, his cousin Timothy M. Phelps said.

A three-time ambassador, Mr. Adams persuaded Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, the Haitian military ruler and a protégé of the ousted dictators Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, to abdicate in March 1990 and leave the country on a United States Air Force jet.


Al Adams
April 2015

General Avril’s departure paved the way for a provisional civilian replacement and, later that year, for the ascension of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president and a Roman Catholic priest at the time.

While Father Aristide campaigned on a leftist platform critical of the United States, Mr. Adams insisted before the election that “what interests us here is the integrity and credibility of the process, and we are prepared to work with whoever is chosen by the people of this country.”

Once Father Aristide was elected, he specifically thanked American officials for supporting the free election process.

Mr. Adams was also credited with saving Father Aristide’s life the following year, denouncing the military coup that overthrew him while negotiating his safe passage to Venezuela. Father Aristide returned to power in 1994.


Alvin P. Adams Jr. with Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
the first freely elected Haitian president,
in Port-au-Prince in 1991

Alvin Philip Adams Jr. was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1942, and grew up in the city, in Oyster Bay, on Long Island, and in Jackson Hole, Wyo. His father, also named Alvin, was an airline executive. His mother was the former Elizabeth Miller, who ran a bookstore and was a daughter of Nathan L. Miller, a governor of New York in the early 1920s.

Mr. Adams graduated from Yale University in 1964 and from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1967.

He served in diplomatic posts in Vietnam and in Washington, including the office of the ambassador at large for counterterrorism.

Mr. Adams was the envoy to Djibouti from 1983-1985, to Haiti from 1989-1992, and to Peru from 1993-1996, appointed under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1996, he was president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America and lived in Honolulu and Buenos Aires before moving to Portland, Ore.

His marriage to the former Mai-Anh Nguyen ended in divorce. He is survived by his son, Lex; two grandchildren; his brother, Nathan; and his sister, Edith Kiggen. Another son, Tung Thanh Adams, was killed in 1989 in an explosion aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa.

While Mr. Adams worked under Secretaries of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. during the Falklands war in 1982 and Henry A. Kissinger during his Middle East shuttle diplomacy in the late 1960s and 1970s, many of his tensest encounters came in Haiti, where his ability to speak Creole improved his popularity.

In January 1990, after General Avril imposed a national state of siege, Mr. Adams was among the diplomats who warned him that economic support from the United States would be dependent on radical political changes. At the same time, he was quietly encouraging fractious civilian politicians to support changing the government.

One night in March of that year, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times, he telephoned General Avril, who was asleep at home, and said they needed to talk. The general invited him over at 2 a.m. “We talked heart-to-heart, person-to-person, for about an hour,” Mr. Adams recalled.

The ambassador said he had made no demands but explained to General Avril that “one way or another he had become a major issue in the movement toward an interim government and that whether he wished it or not he was the source, we thought, of some of the violence that had occurred and of almost certainly heavier violence in the days to come.”

The ambassador said he spoke to General Avril of patriotism and loyalty to institutions and ideals. General Avril excused himself to consult his wife.

“Long minutes passed,” Mr. Adams said. “He returned and said, yes, it was time for him to go.”


Obituary, The Oregonian

October 16, 2015

Alvin Adams, Portland resident and former ambassador, dies after long career in foreign service

Former Ambassador Alvin P. Adams Jr., whose foreign service took him to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and South America, died Saturday in Portland of an apparent heart attack. He was 73.

Adams helped Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide escape into exile with the Venezuelan government during a military coup in 1991.

"He spent his life in danger in one place or another starting at the height of the Vietnam War and in Haiti during a military coup," cousin Timothy Phelps said Friday.

Alvin P. Adams Jr. - April 2015Courtesy Timothy Phelps 
He moved to the Northwest in 2011, after retiring from a 31-year career, much of it with the U.S. Department of State. Nora Stark says she thought her cousin moved to Portland because he enjoyed the city's politically liberal environment.

"He had a wonderful sense of humor, and yet when he was in his historical element or political element, he was absolutely sound, focused and knew exactly what he was taking about," Stark said.

Adams started his career in 1968 during the Vietnam War as a district senior adviser for the State Department. Friends and family said on Friday that the former ambassador was known for his wit and love of history.

"He likes his views but at the same time he was a good listener on what I had to say on various issues," said friend Hiroshi Furusawa, Consul General of Japan in Portland. "As a human being, I thought he was very considerate. I was always impressed by his knowledge."


President Ronald Reagan stands with former
Ambassador Alvin P. Adams, Jr., June 1, 1983
in the Oval Office

He was special assistant to Secretaries of State Al Haig during the Falklands war and Henry Kissinger during his shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel, Phelps said.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton appointed Adams to ambassadorships three times before the age of 50; first to Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, from 1983 to 1985. He later served in Haiti from 1989 to 1992 and in Peru from 1993 to 1996. He also worked as deputy director for counterterrorism in the late 1980s for the state department.

"He was a remarkable man who helped initiate elections and the democratic process in Haiti, then led U.S. efforts to assist the government of Peru in defeating the Shining Path terrorist organization and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement," said Kent Brokenshire, a deputy Haiti special coordinator for the state department who served with Adams in both countries.

Adams arrived in Haiti at a time when the United States showed concern for human rights against the Caribbean government, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Adams and the Venezuelan ambassador waited with Aristide there for three hours, taunted all the while by hostile soldiers, until a Venezuelan plane arrived to take Aristide into exile," wrote Phelps, who is a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, in an email message. "He was awarded the State Department's Citation with Award for Valor for his work in Haiti."

Adams was born Aug. 29, 1942, in New York and graduated from Yale University in 1964. He earned a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967. His grandfather, Nathan L. Miller, was New York governor from 1920-22, and his father, Alvin P. Adams Sr., was an aviation executive during the industry's early days.

"He had a very adventurous father in the airline industry when it was a risky thing to fly. It may be that he got some of that from his dad," Phelps said about Adams' love for foreign service.

Adams is survived by a son, Lex Adams of Orange County, California; his brother, Nathan Adams of Enis, Montana; his sister, Edith Kiggen; and his niece, Elizabeth Kiggen, both of New York City. His marriage to Mai-Anh Adams ended in divorce. His son Tung Thanh Adams was killed in an explosion aboard the battleship USS Iowa in 1989.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


Obituary, The Washington Post

October 16, 2015

Alvin P. Adams Jr., U.S. ambassador to three countries, dies at 73

Alvin P. Adams Jr., a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Haiti during the tumultuous period in the early 1990s when Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president in a historic democratic election, only to be overthrown months later in a military coup, died Oct. 10 in Portland, Ore. He was 73.

The cause was an apparent heart attack, his cousin Timothy M. Phelps said.

Mr. Adams spent three decades in the Foreign Service, beginning in 1967. His first overseas posting was in Vietnam during the war in Southeast Asia.

He rose through the diplomatic ranks and in 1983, received his first ambassadorial appointment, to Djibouti, an impoverished and troubled country on the Horn of Africa. Mr. Adams served there until 1985, then became deputy director for counterterrorism at the State Department before arriving in Haiti in 1989.

Long dominated by the repressive rule of the Duvalier family, the country was led at the time by Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, a military dictator. Mr. Adams gave his early public remarks not in French, but in the Creole language spoken by the masses — a move seen to indicate his intention of supporting a push for democracy.

Mr. Adams used a Creole phrase laden with political significance: “A loaded donkey cannot stand still.” The ambassador’s nickname in Haiti, The New York Times reported, became “Loaded Donkey.”

Popular support for Avril, who was linked to the Duvalier regime, quickly eroded, and by early 1990, the country seemed poised to fall into chaos. The Washington Post reported at the time that Mr. Adams helped persuade Avril to step down.

Their conversation was described as personal and intimate, with references by Mr. Adams to Richard M. Nixon in the final days of his beleaguered presidency.

Mr. Adams also reportedly appealed to Avril by speaking about the human ability to transcend loss. The ambassador said that his wife, who was Vietnamese, had lost her homeland to war. Their son, Tung Thanh Adams, while serving in the Navy, was killed at age 25 in a explosion on the USS Iowa.

“He used the skills of a diplomat to get a military dictator to step down,” Kent Brokenshire, then a junior officer at the embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and now deputy Haiti special coordinator at the State Department, said in an interview. “It was a brilliant piece of work on the part of Ambassador Adams.”

Avril agreed to step down and left the country in an attempt to forestall further chaos. Elections were held in December 1990. The victor was Aristide, a populist politician and onetime Catholic priest.

“Americans can be proud of the role played by their Ambassador, Alvin Adams, since his arrival a year ago,” The New York Times wrote in an editorial. “By making plain that American economic support depended on progress toward elections, he helped keep the electoral process on track.”

Aristide was a charismatic figure but failed to maintain control and was ousted in a coup in September 1991. When Aristide decided to leave the country, Mr. Adams accompanied him to the airport and sat with him until he boarded the plane, Brokenshire said. The ambassador’s presence defused the threat of violence, Brokenshire said, and Mr. Adams was honored with a State Department award.

In Haiti, Aristide returned fitfully to power before relinquishing control in 2004, amid charges of corruption.

Mr. Adams, who had demonstrated his skill at serving in troubled places, was U.S. ambassador to Peru from 1993 to 1996, as that country confronted a Maoist insurgency and the violent drug trade.

Alvin Philip Adams Jr. was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1942. His maternal grandfather was Nathan L. Miller, who served as the Republican governor of New York in the early 1920s. His father, Alvin P. Adams Sr., was a prominent aviation executive.

The younger Mr. Adams received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1964, and a law degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1967.

During the Vietnam War, he served on the staff of Henry A. Kissinger, the national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations. In the Reagan administration, Mr. Adams was an assistant to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. during the Falklands War.

Mr. Adams retired in 1996, later serving as president of the United Nations Association. A former Alexandria, Va., resident, he lived in Hono­lulu and Buenos Aires before settling in Portland in 2011.

His marriage to the former Mai-Anh Nguyen ended in divorce. Survivors include a son, Lex Adams of Ladera Ranch, Calif.; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.

In a 1992 interview with The New York Times, as he prepared to leave Haiti, Mr. Adams reflected on his time there.

“People here say, just wave your magic wand and things will happen, but it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “Whether I leave this country in a better condition than I found it in is certainly a fair question. ... Some people would say the elections here were a turning point, and however dark the moment, Haiti can no longer be governed with a total disregard for the people.”