Distinguished SMU Professor of History Jeremy duQuesnay Adams, beloved by generations of students, honored by colleagues worldwide and the inspiration for a character in the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, died May 2, 2016 at the age of 82.
A memorial service is scheduled for Friday, May 6, at 11:00 a.m. in Perkins Chapel.
More than 40 years ago, Adams and his wife, Bonnie Wheeler of SMU’s Department of English, came to SMU, where they invented SMU’s interdisciplinary Medieval Studies Program with colleagues across the University and the Dallas area. Through the years, Adams’ courses on medieval history played a central role in the expansion and growing reputation of this program, which now offers a popular undergraduate minor and major and a master’s degree. Adams also taught at and directed SMU study-abroad programs in France and Spain and, most frequently, in the SMU-in-Oxford program in England.
In 1999, Adams led a project for his course on “Millennialism Through the Ages” that resulted in a student-created University time capsule. The capsule, filled with 300 items representing life at SMU and in the world at large during the turn of the millennium, remains buried on campus to this day and is scheduled to be opened in the year 3000.
“[W]ho can resist the theatrical and passionate lectures by Jeremy Adams?” wrote alumna Claire Aldridge Heck ’84 in a testimonial during SMU’s Year of the Faculty in 2014. She loved his classes so much that “I took my children to the south of England and climbed around ancient sites just hoping to inspire them as he had inspired me.”
As former colleague Irina Dumitrescu says, “Jeremy duQuesnay Adams was one of the truest intellectuals I’ve ever known. The past was a living place for him: he spoke of Charlemagne or any given Pippin as though he had just lunched with them earlier in the week. His conversation was peppered with quotations in Latin, French, and half a dozen other languages, but he did it warmly, giving you the feeling you probably understood exactly what he was talking about. He taught and inspired generations of students, and his colleagues, too. He was a gentleman in the very best sense of the word: elegant, good-humoured, wickedly funny in the most dignified possible way.”
In 2012, Adams was honored with the first Centennial Professorship established in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The gift that endowed the professorship came from many friends and former students, especially Adams’ former students Stephen and Kathryn Hedges Arata. Their generosity reflected the lasting impact Adams has made with generations of SMU students. “Jeremy Adams created a sense of academic curiosity and desire for learning that I possess to this day,” Kathryn Arata said when the Adams Centennial Professorship was announced. “Now that Stephen and I are in a position to pay back (actually pay forward) the gifts he gave us, we wanted to do something that would be close to Jeremy’s heart. He is passionate about his subject, and we have given this endowment to ensure that his passion will continue to light the fires of academic curiosity in students for years to come.”
Adams lectured and wrote widely on early medieval European thought and society. He loved the Latin language and the vital complexity of the human past. He was a frequent participant in the national Great Courses program and was often featured in films for the History Channel. He was a member of various professional societies, the Signet Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts), and the Elizabethan Club (New Haven, Connecticut).
In 2005, a group of Adams’ colleagues and former students in medieval history created Medieval Paradigms, a two-volume festschrift to honor Adams. The two books contain more than 25 essays by as many contributors, each exploring different facets of medieval life and culture.
Its editor, Stephanie Hayes-Healy, then of Trinity College Dublin, wrote, “Jeremy belongs to a generation of trail-blazing academics who pushed historical scholarship into a three-dimensional world, a world complete with the complexities of human existence, and with a consciousness of the artificial nature of imposed boundaries, especially those among separate academic disciplines. Historians of his generation, armed with respect for but a healthy mode of criticism of those who came before them, went to work on reconstructing the past as much as possible with the newly broadened choice of analytical tools and structures at their disposal. Jeremy’s creative insight as a scholar and a teacher served him well over the years, and have served his students as well.” This serious honor was preceded by a playful pseudo-academic set of essays produced in 1974, when Adams was leaving Yale for SMU. Lamentationes Ieremiae (Lamentations of Jeremy, the Latin name of the book of Lamentations in the Bible), edited by distinguished scholars James J. O’Donnell and Stuart Jenks, can be found on the Georgetown University website.
Professor Adams was born in New Orleans on Oct. 1, 1933. His father, Philip Rhys Adams, long Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, was from a family dedicated to the ministry before and after they crossed the Atlantic to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. His mother, Marie Rose Françoise Constance le Mercier du Quesnay, Vicomtesse de Jumécourt, was the daughter of a French family long settled in Louisiana. Jeremy, their eldest child, was raised in New Orleans and in Columbus, Ohio. He was schooled at the Columbus Academy, and the Jesuit High School in New Orleans, attended Georgetown College and graduated from Harvard College (Adams House) in 1955.
His mentors were his cousin Edwin Reischauer (whose famous survey of East Asian History, fondly called ‘Rice Paddies,’ was as notable as his Sunday family dinners in Belmont of roast beef and rice); historian Crane Brinton; historian Myron Gilmore, son-in-law of Alfred North Whitehead; and historian Giles Constable. After retiring as Captain from his service in the U.S. Army Artillery, he taught at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. He subsequently returned to Harvard for graduate school and completed his Ph.D. in History in 1967. A tutor in Dunster House at Harvard, Adams then taught at Yale, where he also served as a resident fellow of Calhoun College. He came to Southern Methodist University from 1974 and dedicated his life to teaching SMU students both in Dallas and abroad.
One of Adams’ Harvard classmates and Yale colleagues was Erich Segal, who would later gain fame as a novelist and the author of Love Story. Segal was a credited screenwriter on the Beatles’ hit animated feature, Yellow Submarine. Adams’ long and lyrical full name – Jeremy Yvon duQuesnay Adams – as well as his classical erudition, inspired the author to base the character of the Beatles’ mentor on his old friend. As Adams recently summarized the Odyssey-based plot, “The heroes take a yellow submarine to rescue the people of Pepperland who have been imprisoned undersea by the Blue Meanies, an army of cruel, wicked creatures. The heroes are the Beatles, whose powerful music frees the people; they are led by Young Fred, the very old mayor of Pepperland, and assisted in many surprising ways by Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD [né Jeremy Y. duBoob]. ‘Ad hoc, ad loc, et quid pro quo / so little time, so much to know.’ Jeremy helps put the Blue Meanies to rout by pirouetting on one toe and singing, “All You Need is Love.”
Adams received numerous honors during his distinguished academic career. At Yale, he received the DeVane Medal of that university’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter and the national Danforth Foundation’s E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching. At SMU, he was awarded the Perrine Prize from SMU’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter and was named an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor. He received several Outstanding Professor Awards, as well as the “M” Award, SMU’s highest award for distinguished service. He was the author or editor of seven books and numerous academic articles.
Professor Adams is survived by his wife Bonnie Wheeler of Dallas (with whom he renewed wedding vows this past Sunday, May 1); his daughter Constance Adams of Houston, Texas, and her daughters Mathilde and Valerie; by his son Charles Scott of Prince George, British Columbia, and his children and their families; by numerous beloved godchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins; and by his students.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Medieval Studies Program at SMU (PO Box 750402; Dallas 75275-0402).