100-year-old photographer Bob Adams and the rest of his story08/09/2021 02:36PM ● By Steven Hoffman
More than 70 years have passed since Robert Alison Adams, III returned home from the war, but he remembers those events and experiences incredibly well. When the 100-year-old Oxford resident shares his stories, it’s almost like the events happened to someone else.
“I was so used to seeing injuries and death on those airplanes,” he explained. “You just put it out of your mind. The first time I had to photograph a corpse when we came back from a mission was the worst.”
When Adams spoke about the graphic nature of what he saw while serving in World War II, he didn’t want that included in his story.
“When the war ended, it didn’t mean you were going home immediately,” Adams explained. “You couldn’t get out without a certain number of points. Fighting crews, machine gunners and officers were replaced. Hardly any of them would have enough points. Normal ground personnel were three points short to be discharged or too many to be relocated to the Pacific.
“The rest of the ground crew got shipped to Casablanca in North Africa. We were shipped there in hot weather. We had our cold weather clothing in our barracks bag. When the plane landed, it was almost 100 degrees. That heat hit us in the face when we emerged from the plane. Photographers were driven to the photo lab, which was for civilian use. Most of our workers were Italian prisoners of war. They were taught how to develop film and make prints. We did that for three months.”
When that time was up, they packed up and started flying back home on a C-54 cargo plane with metal benches along the side of the plane. The first stop was Bermuda, and then it was on to Miami.
Adams explained, “When we got off the plane and we were in the U.S. again, we got regular milk and ice cream. We had missed the milk we were used to at home. We had a regular meal. We were there overnight and in the morning we had breakfast and boarded a smaller plane that flew to a South Carolina separation base. We were there a month and then discharged.”
While in South Carolina, the returning soldiers could go into town and look around, but Adams was discouraged when he saw signs at a local park that said, “No dogs or soldiers allowed.”
“That really upset us,” he said.
He was soon able to make plans to see his family—at long last. He was traveling with his friend, Beryl Adams, who served in the war with him.
“I called my parents and told them we would be on a train to Washington, D.C.,” Adams said. “Meanwhile, Beryl and I decided we were going into business together. When we got to Washington, my family and wife-to-be (Mary) met us there and drove us home. We sent out invitations and we were married on October 6, 1945 at the Oxford Methodist Church by Pastor Alexander.”
During the time that Adams served his country, he was provided with a parachute that he still had in his possession when he returned home to Oxford.
“As soon as I started to fly, I had to wear a parachute, but I never had to use it,” Adams explained. “The parachute was made of nylon, and I didn’t want the material to go to waste after the war. With an upcoming wedding, I asked Mary if she wanted it to make her gown (out of it).”
Beryl Adams also got married around the same time and the two couples honeymooned in Colorado. Despite a flat tire in Chicago, both couples reached Colorado safely and eventually bought the photo supplies that they needed for their new business. Then they made their way home to Oxford.
“We combined our honeymoon with a trip to Lowry Field in Colorado,” Adams said. “While there, we bought $500 worth of photography equipment for $50.”
Meanwhile, Adams’ father purchased a house on Locust Street and eventually that became the home of Adams and Adams Photography. The two photographers also lived there with their wives in apartments. Adams’ father rented out the apartments and built an addition for the photography showroom. The darkroom was in the basement. Adams eventually took over the house from his father in 1965.
“It took a while, but eventually the business grew,” he explained. “The first photo I took outside of the studio was of a cow. A farmer from Calvert, Maryland called me and asked me to take a picture of his cow. It was a hairless cow. The farmer wanted the picture for himself. It wasn’t common to see a hairless cow in the U.S. That was one of 12 in the country.”
Adams kept busy photographing weddings, which he shot in black and white.
“It was hard to get a color picture that didn’t fade,” he explained. “When Eastman came up with better color photos, I started using color. I did over 3,000 weddings from 1946 until 2000.”
Adams did not limit himself to taking wedding photos. He also worked for Jack Scoffield, who was a coroner for eight years. Adams had already been in business for twenty years before Scoffield visited him and asked if would take pictures of accidents. Adams said that he would, but this duty weighed heavily upon him. He talked only briefly about having to take photographs of local accidents involving children, young adults, and adults. But Adams was a professional, and he did the job that needed to be done.
Adams also served as a bus driver for the Oxford Area School District. His sister-in-law got him involved in that. He was always available to help. Adams closed the photography studio in 2000, at about the time digital photography came in.
He did, however, continue to take wedding photos—mostly for his family, including his grandchildren.
His daughter Reggie Chandler said, “Photography kept my father in business. It became digital just as he retired. It was perfectly timed.”
Retirement gave him more time to perfect his rice pudding. One year, Adams changed things up for birthdays, and he decided he didn’t want any more birthday cakes. Rice pudding would be the celebratory food for birthdays.
Many authors and historians, including Philip Merrill, wish more of Bob Adams’ photos could have been saved. After Adams sold his home to Phil and Nancy Ware Sapp, the new homeowners turned over to the Oxford Area Historical Association more negatives found in the basement.
Ken Woodward, a member of the Oxford Area Historical Association, explained, “About two years ago we did an oral history of Mr. Adams where he shared more of his famous photos. That is available for the public to view. We have catalogued 300 so far and have others in storage.” Woodward added that the photos are “in a climate-controlled space and we know they are in good shape. The pictures are perfect.”
Woodward is one of those people who appreciates the far-reaching influence that Adams had in his community, the country and the world.
“As a member of the OAHA, I learned even more about the man,” Woodward said. “I remember his smile and laugh. I bugged him about the picture at Lincoln I saw on “Antiques Roadshow.” He is so important, not only to the history of Oxford but to our country and the world. We are losing too much history, and I fear the stories won’t get told.”
Gail Roberts, the current OAHA president, is trying desperately to continue to archive these significant photos and negatives of Oxford’s beloved photographer, World War II veteran, father, husband, and a Christian man whose faith only grew in the face of adversity and fear.
Roberts said, “Adams is why the OAHA does this job. We are still looking for photos from Lincoln University. We have so much work to do. The pandemic slowed us down, but we will continue to look for volunteers and donations to protect the historic endowments of people like Bob Adams.”
Earlier this year, Adams celebrated his 100th birthday. He is always willing to share some of the life lessons that he has learned along the way. His faith is very important to him, and he credits—and thanks—God for the life that he has lived.
“Those five times I was almost killed, there is just no other explanation than God was there,” he explained. “I did feel the hand of God after those near-misses. I don’t know how many other times he has saved me. There is a certain responsibility because I am here.”
He said that he did not become a full-fledged Christian until after the war.
He recalled, “I was developing photos in the basement one day and listening to Oliver Green on the radio. I thought I was a Christian until I heard Green speak about what it really meant to be a Christian. He said if you are not a true Christian, all the work you do is going to count for nothing.”
That day, Adams wrote down the scriptures that Green referred to.
“I showed Mary and that evening we started looking it up,” he said. “Mary and I got down and prayed that Jesus would forgive our sins. What it boiled down to is, a lot of people working for God are not Christians, and just because you go to church, it doesn’t mean you are. We prayed to God with sincerity from the heart. Only God knows when you ask for forgiveness and believe that Jesus did die on the cross for you.”
Adams said that he and Mary felt a big impact when they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
“Every day is a new day,” he said. “I just remember I was a new Christian. That is a heavy load to lift off your shoulders. I’m just so thankful that I’m a true Christian, and it makes me smile. My greatest joy is when someone approaches me and tells me I was an influence on them in becoming a Christian.”
All three of Adams’ daughters became Christians early in life.
“That is a real joy,” Adams said.
The family relied on its faith when Mary passed away in 2014. Adams said that he takes comfort in knowing that he will see his beloved wife again.
God and love are the reasons he has lived with joy for 100 years.
Robert Alison Adams, III had this to say about his long, remarkable life: “It is no surprise I lived to be 100. With the love I felt for my wife, and the love she shared for me, and the love we felt for our children…well, all that love has kept me here all this time.”