Alton Augustus Adams Jr., age 90, of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, died on Sept. 8 in Atlanta, Ga. Alton was a proud Virgin Islander, born Nov. 8, 1928, on St. Thomas to Ella and Alton Adams Sr. He was the youngest of seven siblings and the only son.
After attending Saints Peter and Paul Grammar School and the Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas, he graduated from the Landhaven Preparatory School in Camden, Maine. He was one of the first black students to attend Notre Dame University after the school lifted its color ban; he graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Alton later attended the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
After graduation Alton was employed as an engineer by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, Calif. He was instrumental in the design of the wing structure of the legendary U.S. Air Force Hercules military transport. He later joined the Air Force and earned his wings as a pilot, flying for six years and receiving an honorable discharge at the rank of captain.
Alton was a member of the 9550th Air Reserve Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and was honorably discharged in 1972.
He returned to civilian life as a project engineer with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now part of NASA), responsible for the design and inspection of airport tower facilities and equipment at airports in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New York.
Returning to the Virgin Islands, Alton worked in the Department of Public Works where he was eventually promoted to assistant commissioner in charge of engineering and maintenance of all Virgin Islands government facilities. He became the first executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority in 1969 where his responsibilities included administering, managing and developing safety and operational protocols for the airports, marine and submarine base properties.
In 1971, he established the firm of Alton A. Adams Jr. and Associates, providing architectural, environmental and planning services. He served on many boards and organizations, including 32 years as a member of the Magens Bay Authority Board; two terms as president of the St. Thomas -St. John Chamber of Commerce; organizer and commander of the Virgin Islands Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol; a founding member of the Ramblers Club and the Gypsy Troupe; and a faculty member of the College (now University) of the Virgin Islands. Alton was an advisory member of the Adams Music Research Institute in affiliation with Columbia College in Chicago and a board member of the St. Thomas Historical Trust.
His professional affiliations included the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Professional Engineers and the American Association of Airport Executives. He received many recognitions over the years, including certificates of appreciation from the Bureau of U.S. Customs and the American Legion. He was among the first group of Notre Dame graduates presented with the “Black Notre Dame Exemplars,” a recognition that hung prominently and proudly on the wall in his home.
Alton loved music, including all the classics and grand marching tunes. He did not play an instrument although music was a fundamental part of his upbringing. His father, Alton A. Adams Sr., was a music composer and teacher and was the first African American bandmaster for the United States Navy.
Through Alton Jr.’s hard work and advocacy, his father’s achievements are recognized in his own section of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Alton Jr. was very proud to attend the opening of the museum in 2016 along with President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and many others.
When he was a ninth grader, he was advised that the fields of engineering and aviation were fields not pursued by blacks. Proving them wrong, he went on to have a successful career in both fields, and he recently completed and published “The History of Aviation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Alton has long said that the most fortunate thing that ever happen to him was his marriage to his wife Patricia, who passed away on Sept. 3, 2016. They were married 60 years, three months and two days. In their later years, Alton and Patricia lived at the Lenbrook Senior Community in Atlanta, Ga.
He is survived by his three children: Alton Leon Adams, Gwendolyn Adams Norton and her husband Peter; and Patrick Adams and his wife Chandra; his grandchildren: Satrice, Saevion and Siara; his sister, Althea; and his many nieces and nephews of the Adams, Finch, Questel, Campbell, Watson, Andre, Francois and Benjamin families.
Special thanks are due to his niece, Gail Campbell, who visited him often, and during his decline swapped gossip and cooked for Alton his favorite foods that he was not supposed to eat.
The family will be forever grateful to the staff at Lenbrook for their support and professional skills. He was so fond of his caregivers, particularly Juanita Richardson, Sandra Atkinson-Graham and Ann Marie Dubarie, who took such exceptional care of him.
He stayed in touch with his friends and family in the Virgin Islands, speaking to them frequently.
Alton was well loved and admired at Lenbrook where he made great friends. It speaks greatly that among the many visitors before his death were Lenbrook’s cooks, security officers, nurses and other staff.
The Memorial Service will be on Friday, Sept. 20, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Estate Elizabeth, St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. The viewing will be held at 9:00 a.m. followed by Mass at 10:00 a.m. immediately followed by interment at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cemetery.
Funeral arrangements are provided by Turnbull’s Funeral Home, 3815 Crown Bay, St. Thomas Virgin Islands.