Known for a voracious appetite and an affinity for the Boston Red Sox, beloved husband and father Bob Adams was also the consummate newspaperman.
Adams, known as “Boomer” to fellow sportswriters and editors, experienced breathing difficulty Saturday night and died hours later after being hospitalized. He was 78.
“They worked on him for a long time,” Adams’ wife, Nancy, said Tuesday. “He hadn’t been feeling good for two weeks but he still did stuff, like cut the grass. I didn’t expect this to happen.”
Adams delivered newspapers as a youngster, when his route included a stop by the house of former Roanoke Times and World-News publisher Junius Fishburn. He later went to work in the sports department of The Roanoke Times at a time when the afternoon World-News was still being published.
Adams spent 43 years at The Roanoke Times, where he was the makeup editor at the time of his retirement on Good Friday in 2006.
“He was the guy who made sure the paper got out,” said Michael Stowe, a former Roanoke Times sports editor and managing editor. “He was the last person to look at the pages and send them to the press room before the paper printed.
“I always went home knowing the paper was in good hands.”
Before he became a newsroom trouble-shooter, Adams covered professional hockey and auto racing. He was The Roanoke Times beat reporter for the Salem Rebels in their inaugural season in 1970.
“I can picture him with his crewcut sitting in the press box above the goal,” said Carey Harveycutter, a future Salem Civic Center manager who served as a statistician in the Rebels’ first two seasons.
Some of Adams’ fondest memories of his sportswriting career occurred when he covered auto racing for The Roanoke Times, often traveling in the company of Steve Waid, who had that beat for the World-News.
“It turned out that we both covered hockey and we both covered racing,” said Waid, who recently was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “Racing was where we became very close because when I came on board, I knew very little about it. I’d covered some races in Martinsville but Bob was a fountain of knowledge.
“He knew everybody and everything. I just listened to everything he said.”
Adams was a high-volume eater in those days, and Waid could only watch in awe.
“I remember I was going to Daytona for the first time and, for some reason, Bob wasn’t making the trip,” Waid said. “I said, ‘How far is it to Daytona?’ And Bob said, ‘Oh, about 11 Dairy Queens.’ ”
Then there was the time that Adams and Waid were in South Carolina at Darlington Raceway, where they were joined at dinner by Martinsville Speedway owner H. Clay Earles and his public relations director, Dick Thompson.
“We got to talking about the special at a seafood place, which was all-you-can-eat peel-and-eat shrimp,” Waid said Tuesday. “And Bob said, ‘I believe I can eat more than anyone here.’
“And I told him, ‘I know you can.’ And Clay said, ‘So, let’s see if you can do it.’ Dick Thompson would count the shrimp by the husks that [Adams] would throw away. After a while, Dick Thompson said, ‘I don’t believe this. There’s 462 peel-and-eat shrimp.’
“Then, to prove he was all right, Bob went out and jogged around the parking lot with Clay Earles.”
The family pastor stopped by the Adams’ house on Monday “and that was brought up,” Nancy Adams said. “I mean, he ate 462 shrimp? How could you do that? They must have kicked him out or something.”
In recent years, Adams had spent time with his three grandchildren, particularly as they took up sports. He also was a regular at a breakfast group of retired Roanoke newspaper employees.
One of his contemporaries was Marty Horne, who designed the World-News sports section for many years but also covered games alongside Adams at Ferrum. One year, they traveled to Niagara Falls, New York, on a hockey-related trip, and the only room they could find at a hotel was the honeymoon suite.
“He never let me live that down,” Horne said. “He told me, ‘I want to be the boy. I’ll call you Martha.’”
During the days when there were two papers that competed, Adams would think nothing of writing up a fictitious story about Richard Petty or some other famous athlete and putting it in one of trash receptacles to send the rival sportswriters into a tizzy.
“Bob loved it,” Horne, a fellow retiree, said. “He had a great sense of humor. He was fun to be around; he really was. I enjoyed every minute of every trip I ever took with him.”