William Y. Adams wearing his medal as a recipient of the Sudanese government’s Order of the Two Niles.
With his family and community, SAR mourns the passing of William Y. Adams, who died on August 22, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of ninety-two.
Dr. Adams spent much of his childhood in Window Rock, Arizona, before entering Stanford University and later the US Navy. He married Nettie Alice Kesseler in 1955 and earned his PhD from the University of Arizona in 1957 with a dissertation on the role of the trader in Navajo society. In 1959 he and Nettie moved to Sudan, where he worked for many years. The Sudanese government in 2005 recognized his great contribution to knowledge about the country by awarding him its highest civilian honor: the Order of the Two Niles.
In 1966 Dr. Adams became a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky, and in 2009 the university recognized his passion for teaching by making him the first faculty member inducted into the College of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. He wrote prolifically, publishing twenty-six books in his lifetime—for which he drew his own illustrations of archaeological sites—with even more currently in production. His dissertation was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1963 as Shonto: A Study of the Role of the Trader in a Modern Navaho Community and has since been reprinted. More recently, the University of New Mexico Press published his autobiography, The Road from Frijoles Canyon: Anthropological Adventures of Four Continents.
Dr. Adams amassed a large professional library, much of which he donated to SAR in his later years. In 1987–88, he was one of six judges for the J. I. Staley Prize, given by SAR to a book that exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. With his wife, Dr. Adams established the William Y. and Nettie K. Adams Fund at SAR to support short seminars or summer research projects focused on the history of anthropology and the theoretical implications of the culture concept.
“A world without Bill Adams feels like a world without the pyramids, or without Stonehenge,” colleagues have said. “A terrible quiet has opened.”