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Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Nora Adams, educator, 'spark plug' in Seattle, dies at 75

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

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Nora B. Adams, a Seattle public-school educator who was involved in the district's desegregation plan and later became one of its first black female principals, has died. She was 75.

Mrs. Adams' career as an educator spanned 37 years, beginning at the now-shuttered Sharples Junior High School in 1952 and ending with her retirement from Seward Elementary School in 1989.

In between, she touched a lot of lives, those who knew her say.

Her sister, Mildred K. McHenry, said she found "many, many letters" in which Mrs. Adams' former students thanked her for her influence and guidance during their years in school.

The Rev. Paul Collins of Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, where Mrs. Adams sang in the choir and served on the board of directors, described her as an "absolute live wire."

"She was always so full of energy — a spark plug wherever she was," he said. "She was really loved by a lot of people."

Mrs. Adams died in Seattle on April 18 after a five-month illness that had only occasionally slowed her stride. She continued to travel, attended church, sketched, practiced tai chi and played bridge, family and friends say.

The importance of education was a family legacy for Mrs. Adams, who was born and raised in the segregated town of Terrell, Texas, where her father was principal of the elementary school she attended.

After one year of college in Texas, she moved to Seattle in 1946 to continue her education. She received her bachelor of education degree from Seattle University in 1952, the year she began her teaching career.

Mrs. Adams taught in the Seattle School District for eight years, earned a master's degree in education administration and supervision from Seattle University and moved to New Jersey, where she spent the next decade teaching and later served as an elementary-school principal.

She returned to Seattle in 1970 to accept a job as principal of T.T. Minor Elementary School, becoming, according to some accounts, the first African-American woman in the district to have that role. She also was involved in the district's voluntary desegregation busing plan. In 1989, she retired from Seward Elementary School, having also served as principal of Bryant, Sacajawea and Dunlap schools.
Mrs. Adams, her sister said, played the piano and guitar to relax. She was an avid bowler until her illness. She played bridge with friends regularly and volunteered weekly at her church's thrift shop.

But above all else, McHenry said, her sister loved to travel, explore and discover new places.

Mrs. Adams and her husband traveled extensively after she retired, McHenry said. Their favorite destinations were in Mexico.

Mrs. Adams' husband, Robert C. Adams, and her son, Alonzo Crawley, preceded her in death.

More recently Mrs. Adams traveled with friends, and when no one was available to accompany her, she'd go by herself, her sister said.

"She was going all the time," McHenry said. "She had several time-share weeks and would spend time in Florida, along the Oregon coast, reading and sketching. She had trips planned out through the rest of this year.

"She told me, 'You know, Boots (McHenry's nickname), I'm going to keep going till I can't go anymore. I may be out of the city or the state when I go.' "

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. today at Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, 609 Eighth Ave. Memorials may be sent to the Trinity Parish Church Earthquake Restoration Fund.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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