Summer People: Earl and Ezola Adams

Earl and Ezola Adams at their summer home. — Photo by Julie Reiter

Earl and Ezola Adams are summer people and the subjects of the fifth weekly MVTimes series, Summer People. The goal of Summer People is to introduce readers to their summer neighbors, some of them prominent and extraordinarily accomplished, some whose lives are less exalted, all of them Islanders in their own ways. How do they describe their connections to the Vineyard and their seasonal Island neighbors? How do they describe their off-Island lives?

When most people come to Martha’s Vineyard, they describe their Island lives as “peaceful,” sometimes “quiet.” Earl and Ezola Adams enjoy relaxing here, but they keep their dance card quite full. Last Friday morning, the high school sweethearts took some time out of their busy schedule to talk with a reporter, save for a quick visit from a friendly neighbor.

Although their house was quiet that morning, it did not feel empty. Through the living room and kitchen, countless photographs of children and grandchildren were placed carefully across walls and tabletops. Dolls, patiently waiting for play, sat by the fireplace.

Out on the screen porch, Mr. and Ms. Adams looked at one another. Mr. Adams nodded, and his wife began. Ms. Adams started by showing a newspaper cutout of the announcement of Phyllis H. Conway’s memorial service, a close friend who died recently. In 1965, Ms. Conway and Ms. Adams taught together in New Jersey. Mr. Adams said that Ms. Conway suggested they take the Adamses’ three children to an Island called Martha’s Vineyard, “a nice family place.”

A week that summer turned into a month the next, which eventually led to the purchase of a house. Now, the Adamses own a larger house at Tower Ridge in Oak Bluffs in order to be able to accommodate their large family. The Adamses have three children and five grandchildren who visit them regularly. One summer, their son, Barry Adams, met his future wife, Vickee Jordan, daughter of Vernon Jordan, a prominent Chilmark summer resident.

Since retirement, the couple spends from about May to October on the Island, occasionally visiting for a week in the winter. Ms. Adams is a member of many clubs, including Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and a book club called Women Rising, which focuses on books written by or primarily about black women. They are currently reading “Warmth of the Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. In the past, she has served as president of the Cottagers Incorporated, a philanthropic organization of African- American women homeowners. She continues to be a member today.

Before retirement, Ms. Adams was an elementary school teacher, a guidance counselor, and an adjunct professor. Mr. Adams worked in insurance and risk management at Johnson & Higgins, one of the largest brokerage firms in the world until it was sold to Marsh & McLennan in 1997. In 1993, his firm asked him to transfer from New Jersey to Atlanta where Mr. Adams created the insurance and risk management program for the entirety of the 1996 summer Olympics.

Mr. Adams said his experience handling the insurance and risk management construction of the Washington metro system, and the Dallas and Baltimore light rail system, gave him the experience to face this huge task.

“The Olympic family in 96 was one hundred thousand people, athletes, coaches, trainers, the United State’s Olympics committee, the international Olympic committee. When they came to America, the Olympics were obliged to provide health insurance. We had to set up a health insurance program for 100,000 people for the length of the games.

“I get a little bit amused about when they — I wont be political — when certain people said that they didn’t know if London was ready for the Olympics. They were saying the same thing about Atlanta. They said the same thing about Athens. There is something in the public relations that happen that people are hyper and excited about the games, and they don’t think everything will be ready. It was ready.

“I would tell anyone that the security issue at the Olympics was well attended to because it encompasses the police networks from around the world, as well as the intelligence networks from around the world, and they really watch closely, should we say, organized terrorism. However, there are always individual actors, and that is very hard to manage.”

Ms. Adams chimed in to say that the experience of being at the Olympics was a “wonderful whirlwind.”

Both found that the transition from North to South was a distinct change of pace. They said that there, people often don’t mind waiting in lines, don’t honk their horns, don’t know what it is to be punctual. Mr. Adams added, “The main thing is that Atlanta is not really the true South. Especially after the Olympics, so many different people from so many different places moved in.”

Moving from New Jersey to Atlanta was a bit harder on Ms. Adams than Mr. Adams. A friend from the Vineyard, who also lived in Atlanta, helped her feel more comfortable after the move. Once she joined Atlanta’s local chapter of Links Incorporated, another philanthropic organization, she made more friends.

However, Ms. Adams said, “The Vineyard experiences, though, are different than at home because it is busier for me here than what I do now in Atlanta.”

Mr. Adams said the things he likes best about the Vineyard are “the beaches and the nature and the weather and the people.”

Ms. Adams said, “It’s such a nice place to be, and it’s so friendly. You go to the post office and you run into your friends. And you go inside, and Mr. Leonard will say ‘Hi, Mrs. Adams. How are you?’ and such.”

Later that afternoon, the Adamses went off to the airport. They were picking up friends flying in from Dallas.