Larry Adams 1936-2007
Larry Adams, remembered by many UCSB students of the 1960s as an inspiring professor of political science, died September 7 at age 71 at the Sarah House hospice. As testament to his enduring impact as a teacher, among the many who visited him in his last weeks were former students, despite the fact that nearly four decades have elapsed since he taught at UCSB.
Larry maintains a special place in the hearts of his students, not only because of his eloquence and command of subject, but also because of his warmth and accessibility. He displayed a sense of modesty. Students could sense that despite the depth of his knowledge, he recognized there was much he did not know.
He was also admired for his courage in his lifelong struggle with hemophilia. Students may recall the Larry Adams Blood Drives, which garnered support from the UCSB community-another reflection of the regard with which he was held. Despite the pain and suffering he experienced, he was fiercely independent and determined to live life as fully as possible.
It could be argued that the nature of his disease helped shape him as a reflective thinker. As a teenager-homebound for long periods of time by his illness-Larry wrote a weekly column for the Santa Barbara News-Press called Window On My World, which featured his observations about the political world. The fact that Larry had to deal with his own mortality at a very early age and accept that he had a disease he could never overcome may have influenced the perspective he brought to the classes he taught.
Larry also taught religious studies, and religious themes were woven into his political science classes-especially the American political thought class. Stan Anderson, a UCSB colleague, political science professor emeritus, and close friend, noted there was a tabletop photo of Reinhold Niebuhr-a theologian and democratic socialist-in Larry’s room at the hospice.
John Kay-a professor emeritus of political science at SBCC who grew up with Larry in Santa Barbara and was a college classmate and colleague-recalls the impact of religion on Larry’s thinking.
“There was a definite spiritual side to Larry’s intellectual and emotional development. Writers like Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Jacques Maritain, and T.S. Eliot influenced his lectures and writing. These writers called into question the inevitability of progress, reaffirming the capacity of evil. And most of them assailed zealots who believed that, through politics, we can establish some sort of heaven on earth. To Adams, progress through reason was surely important but reason alone was not going to cut it. A sense of charity, humility, love, and affection-an emotional and intellectual connection to the nobler aspects of our nature-was crucial.”
Despite his skepticism about utopian visions of political change, Larry was a committed liberal political activist. He was a member of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee from 1968-71, attended the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and was an ardent supporter of Robert Kennedy and Cesar Ch¡vez.
Former state senator Gary K. Hart, whose longshot run against an entrenched Republican incumbent in 1970 helped galvanize the progressive community in Santa Barbara, notes Larry’s role in Democratic politics during this period.
“When I first cut my teeth in Santa Barbara electoral politics in 1970, I got to know Larry Adams. The Vietnam War was still raging, and Santa Barbara Democrats were demoralized about the prospects of winning against incumbent Charles Teague. The call went out for someone to run and I said I would be willing. About the same time, Larry Adams said he would be willing as well. Neither one of us was interested in running against each other and after a number of meetings and conversations, Larry decided to withdraw. Larry was a very knowledgeable person about politics and public policy. If he had run for office, I think he would have had a strong following and would have been an outstanding public official.”
Larry left UCSB in 1971 to accept a teaching position at Baruch College at the City University of New York, a position he held until 1996, when he retired to Santa Barbara. In 1977, his book about Walter Lippmann, another skeptic of political utopias, was published. Physical problems mounted in his later years, but Larry displayed an active mind and interest in politics until the end.
Larry Adams was the first teacher I had in college. I am not someone who succumbs easily to giddiness, but the feelings I had about him can only be described as adulation. I had many excellent teachers at UCSB but he was the only one who met every expectation I ever had about the perfect teacher. I know my feelings about him were shared by many other students of that period.
To celebrate the enduring legacy of Larry Adams’s life, in lieu of flowers, please donate either to the Larry Adams Scholars, UCSB Foundation-a quarterly undergraduate scholarship for UCSB political science students-or to Sarah House (2612 Modoc Rd.), the hospice where he peacefully spent his last days, visited by his cousin and so many of his friends