Obituary: Donald G. Adam / Chatham University English professor

Nov. 21, 1935 - April 2, 2008

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It was not unusual to walk past Donald Adam's classroom at Chatham University and hear a thumping sound. Swept up in his passion for English literature, Dr. Adam would punctuate concepts such as "truth" and "beauty" by banging on students' desks.

"He was for many years part of the fabric of this institution," said William Lenz, chairman of the university's English department. "He's part of what many generations of Chatham students will recognize as their experience."

Dr. Adam, of Point Breeze, taught at Chatham from 1966 to 2002. He died Wednesday of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 72.

His death was relatively sudden, said Dr. Lenz: Just weeks ago, he had entertained a night class at Chatham with a guest lecture on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

Dr. Adam came to Chatham in 1966, a few years after receiving his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester.

He came to Chatham in part to teach and coordinate a course on the old arts that was then required for all students. The class covered topics such as literature, architecture, painting and drama.

"He really was a Renaissance man in the old tradition," said Dr. Lenz. "Sometimes today we get caught up in the minutiae of life. Don Adam always wanted the big questions answered. What is beauty? Truth? Art?"

Dr. Adam spent endless hours with his students, determined to make 18th-century English literature accessible to modern day college students.

Even his personal life eventually intertwined with his work. He met his companion of nearly 15 years, Susan Hamilton, while she was a student in his class and a participant on a trip that he led to London.

Through his trips to London, Dr. Adam was an early architect of Chatham's study abroad program. Walking tours served as the centerpiece of such trips, where he would dash between cultural and literary monuments such as the Globe Theater and Sherlock Holmes' house.

"The students would try desperately to keep up with him," said Dr. Lenz. "Students always said, 'How can a man of his age walk us to death?' "

After his official retirement in 2002, Dr. Adam stayed on as a professor emeritus. He taught English to international students, primarily those from Japan, and took them to the George Bernard Shaw festival each year at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario.

Dr. Adam also spent his retirement cooking and doing crossword puzzles, but his focus was still on helping students.

"His life was teaching," said Ms. Hamilton. "He was just an excellent teacher, and he loved it."

In addition to Ms. Hamilton, Dr. Adam is survived by a son, A.K.M. Adam, of Princeton, N.J.; a daughter, Holly Adam, of Greenwich, Conn., a brother, Richard, of Albuquerque, N.M.; a stepsister, Carol Clark, of Amherst, Mass.; and three grandchildren.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, 1 N. Linden St., Duquesne, PA 15110.

Anya Sostek can be reached at or 412-263-1308.


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