Harry Baker Adams, 1924-2020

Editor’s Note: YDS Dean Greg Sterling sent the following announcement to the YDS community on the death of Harry Baker Adams, Professor Emeritus. Please share your tributes and remembrances at this post on the YDS Facebook page.

Dear Colleagues,

I write with the sad news that one of the great members of the Yale community has died. Harry Baker Adams ’51 B.D., the Horace Bushnell Professor Emeritus of Christian Nurture, passed away on Wednesday, January 22nd, at the age of 95.  

Harry Adams was an exemplary educator, administrator, and human being. He and his now-deceased wife, Manette—whom he met at YDS when both were students—were beloved members of the YDS community for decades.

Harry earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1947, having interrupted his undergraduate education to serve in the U.S. Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1945. He continued his education at YDS, earning his B.D. in 1951. After working as a Disciples of Christ pastor for five years, Harry came back to YDS in 1956—first as Associate Director of Field Work and then, beginning in 1960, as a member of the faculty, teaching homiletics among other subjects. In 1976, he was named Professor of Pastoral Theology, and in 1999, he was given the honor of being appointed the Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture.

In the words of his longtime colleague Harry Attridge, Harry Adams was “was a proud product and dedicated servant of Yale.” Indeed, Harry Adams was willing and capable to lead in multiple venues: He was University Chaplain for five years; Master of Trumbull College for ten years and acting Master of Saybrook for one; Acting Director of the Institute of Sacred Music on no less than three occasions; acting Dean of YDS for one semester; and, for many years, Associate Dean of YDS. Not many people have such versatility, and fewer have exercised it.

In addition to those roles, Harry Adams was an accomplished author. He published eight books, most notably Preaching: The Burden and the Joy, What Jesus Asks, God Confronts Man, and Seekers of the Way.

I learned to appreciate Harry for his sagacity, his knowledge, and his love of Yale. We occasionally had lunch together. He understood Yale and churches exceptionally well and was an important source of information to help me learn Yale and our relationship to churches. He was perceptive and never lost sight of the changing landscape. 

Harry was also a wonderful person. He was incredibly disciplined. On one occasion, we met for lunch at a restaurant on State Street. When our lunch concluded I asked him if he needed a ride back to Whitney Center. He declined and indicated that he preferred to return on foot as part of his daily ten-mile walk!

He was also incredibly generous to the Divinity School and our students, as demonstrated by his contributions to the scholarship fund established in his name. There simply are not enough human beings of the caliber of Harry Adams. I will miss our conversations and his warm smile.

A service for Harry Baker Adams will be held in Marquand Chapel at YDS on Saturday, February 8th, at 2 p.m. All are invited. You can learn more about his exemplary life and career by reading this obituary

I know you join me in praying for Harry’s loved ones, especially for his children: Paul, Susan, and Lynn.

Best wishes,

Greg Sterling 

Gregory E. Sterling
The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean
The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament
Yale Divinity School

January 24, 2020