Mike was my brother. We grew up in Killeen about 60 miles from Austin. We had loving parents and an amazing extended family. Our mother had eight siblings and our dad three brothers. We spent so many wonderful holidays with our grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and more cousins. Such fun we had on these occasions playing, eating never realizing how blessed we were.
Mike and I were 18 months apart. He was the middle child; I was the baby girl so there were moments when our relationship was tense. We played flag football, but he “forgot” and tackled me. Who could ever imagine that this kind, gentle man was a typical middle child that tried hard to compete with me and his older brother. He far exceeded that goal.
Mike graduated from high school in 1964 and was the president of the student council, National Honor Society member, secretary treasurer of the Key Club, and lettered in basketball. His senior year he and his friends were caught painting the water tower with Seniors 1964. They were met at the bottom of the ladder by the police. Their punishment was removing the paint.
Mike and I had always shared the love of dogs. We adopted two brothers from what in those days was called the pound. I named mine Blackie because he was black. Mike named him Tramp. I always thought it was because of the movie Lady and the Tramp and actually he sort of looked like Tramp. Mike continued his love of dogs with his Labs, Cooper after Gary Cooper, Blue because he was so black it was almost blue, and Belle, Dorothea’s love and surprisingly a natural hunter.
Mike was an avid basketball player. He was a late bloomer as far as height went but he was so quick and crafty he was a starter on the high school team. His love of basketball lasted many years and he belonged to a senior league in Austin. Always the athlete, he replaced basketball with swimming and became well known at UT’s Gregory Gym. He swam even when his body was telling him it was time to stop. He said he needed those endorphins to keep him going.
Mike was a devoted son to our mother. When we lost our dad, he would drive most Sundays to Killeen and have lunch with our mom. She would make his favorite meals, and they would watch sports on TV. He was also there for me when I lost my husband. It was like we were kids again and he had to take care of me. The many phone calls made when my grief was at its worst would be softened with a line from a poem or some meaningful quote. His caring and love helped me through some difficult times.
Just as several of his students named their sons after Mike, so did family members. He was a son, spouse, uncle, great uncle, first double cousin, and cousin. For me, he was my brother, and I am his sister.
Mary Oliver wrote:
“When it’s over, it’s over and we don’t know
any of us what happens then”………
We often discussed this. With all his research, writings, and discussions he always said you won’t know till you get there.
I hope when I get there, I will see you again. Carol
In 2008, I had the privilege of taking the class “In Search of Meaning” with Professor Michael Adams at UT Austin. At the time, I was an undergraduate student who was struggling to understand my place in the world and searching for a way to give my life meaning and order. It is now fifteen years later, yet this evening, I found myself thinking of him and the continued influence his mentorship and teaching had on my life and career. After I searching online about whether he was still teaching at UT, I learned of his passing. Despite not having spoken to him in over a decade, I was suddenly overtaken by grief. I was one of many students who felt forever changed by his teachings. After my first class with him, he continued to provide mentorship about my creative work. He gave feedback on countless of my poems. I’ll never understand how he found time for everything he did for his students. My interactions with him were one of the main reasons I myself became an English teacher. He saw beauty in the everyday world, and it was impossible not to be transformed by his deep-seated idealism. He gave me a framework and a language for operating within a chaotic world. Michael Adams was a truly great person, mentor, and teacher. His empathy for others reached a level that was almost beyond human, and it was not uncommon for students to speak of him as a kind of modern prophet. Witnessing his impact on his students’ lives led me to become a teacher, and I am incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to learn from him and bear witness to a part of his life. From him, I took into the rest of my life an appreciation for the beauty in the everyday, and when I find peace in my family life, my close friends, and my routines and daily rituals, I know that it is largely because of him that I found that framework of meaning.
In the spring of 2010, I had the privilege of taking Dr. Adams’s undergraduate seminar entitled “In Search of Meaning.” The class was life-changing, and Dr. Adams became a trusted mentor.
In our seminar, I watched as Dr. Adams took genuine interest in his students and their ideas. Being a student in Dr. Adams’s class was not only a lesson in the material we studied, it was also a lesson in how to treat your fellow human as a being of inherent worth, how to find fascination in all things, how to appreciate the interconnectedness of it all.
As a young person seeking to figure out how to approach the world, the example Dr. Adams provided was a powerful lesson in how to live a meaningful life.
To this day, I hear Dr. Adams’s voice in my head when I reflect on life’s eternal questions. When I write, I recall what he taught me about how to craft an effective sentence and how to ensure one paragraph flows well to the next so that my intended message is conveyed. I look back warmly on the many great conversations Dr. Adams and I shared about our mutual interest in the Enlightenment and the arguments for human liberty. And I remember fondly the wisdom he imparted that “dog” is just God spelled backward. For all of this and many more lessons, I am forever grateful to Dr. Adams.
Godspeed, Michael. Godspeed.
Michael was a good soul. Blind Man's Bluff. I have three signed copies here in my study
in Bastrop and I have given away to worthy souls another dozen in the last twenty years. I have Douglass Parker’s review in my copies here. It is quintessentially human in the same way Last Picture Show is.
Many of us will carry Michael’s spirit inside us in our time ahead. He made wherever he was sitting, standing and breathing a better place. Two lucky semesters I taught in the classroom across from his office and saw him regularly.
Stopping in and talking with Michael reminded me that as Bob Dylan puts it in Ain't Talkin': The fire's gone out, but the light is never dying. That is his lasting gift to us all.
I will remember Uncle Michael for his love, thoughtfulness, kindness, grace, and generosity. Over the past 25 years, he and Auntie Dorothea always welcomed me into their home in Austin, and would go out of their way to make sure I was as comfortable as possible. I will definitely cherish the time we shared and the many holidays we spent together. Uncle Michael inspired to be a better educator and human being. Thank you for being a wonderful Godfather and an amazing person. My family and I love you and miss you. Till we meet again.
Rebecca Bengal (Rebecca L. Johnson)
My deepest condolences to you, Dorothea. Sending this note to you in a letter, but I’ll post it here too for others:
I am grateful to have had Michael as a teacher and MFA thesis advisor in the early 2000s—he was a close and generous reader with a great heart and terrifically dry and knowing sense of humor. I am even more grateful that I got to connect with him again years later when I was, for just ten days, to be a visitor at Dobie Paisano, taking care of the resident fellow’s dogs and working on a new short story. Michael picked me up from the airport and on the drive over, we caught up a little about the intervening years. We had talked some about his paintings when I was his student but this time, I got to see even more of his paintings, which I loved, especially those great psychedelic neon cowboys. He was very happy to hear about various stories of mine especially the time I interviewed Willie Nelson on his tour bus for The Guardian. He gallantly insisted on stopping at an HEB because, he said, the creek waters at the ranch were rising, and I might be stuck at the house for days.
I don’t know that anyone else besides Dobie himself took better care of that place or had more reverence for it. As we drove along the roads to the ranch and over the cattle guard and sailed across the already rising waters of the creek in his truck, Michael pointed out every landmark and favorite tree, he seemed to know each inch of the land intimately, with equal appreciation for the minute details of house and land maintenance as for the more extraordinary qualities of the place. He winced, visibly, when I asked about the new mansions in the midst— he had plenty to say about those. The arrival of the mansions reminded us both of a short story I had drafted in my thesis and later published. Later, when I was on my own, the creek did rise, thrillingly, and Michael checked in, as he did when I let him know that yet another aspect of that same short story had come true, when the dogs and I were followed by coyotes while walking around the ranch. That first day, we all built a fire outside and hung out for a while; I had remembered his dog Blue from my Michener days and the older dog and sweet, wild puppy I was watching here clearly recognized him as a trusted and beloved dog person, they adored him.
If Dobie Paisano continues with even half the care it received (for the place, the house, and the writers there) under Michael’s stewardship, it will be a testament in his honor. In one of the emails we exchanged in the last couple of years, despite one of Parkinson’s cruel and unfair falls, he was aiming to try to keep swimming and painting, he was writing, and, so very generously, writing letters for former students which, he wrote, “keeps me magnetized towards what I love.”
Dear Michael, I am lighting a candle at the Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île today in your honour. One of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me are the hours that you and I spent in your office, reading the Old and New Testaments. It wasn’t about belief, but about its qualities, the meaning of faith, the nature of stories, an understanding of the divine. Thank you for, in your person, modelling all these things for me. You were the kindest soul I’ve ever encountered. Everyone who was fortunate enough to be your student was touched by your grace. I hope that you’re in a beautiful place, full of happy dogs and good things to relish and read. I’ll never forget the lessons you taught me. Thank you, with all my heart.
In 1982 I met Michael. I was a freshman in his E310 class. As a first generation college attendee, I was a shy, introverted Latino from the south side of San Antonio. The University was a foreign land, and I felt unsure of my place in it. But in his class, I came to know of a world hidden from me. He was a teacher in the best sense of the word. Without his guidance, I could not have found my "voice" in writing, nor would I have discovered the beauty and power of words. Of all the courses I enrolled in, and of all the college Professors I encountered, his teaching delivery and classroom environment resonated with me the most, long after I graduated and had entered the workforce.
I visited him many times at his UT office over the years, because I liked him. He was a wise and decent man, and I found in him many virtues I admired. The last time I saw him was shortly before COVID. We had dinner at Mother's Cafe on Duval Road. I am grateful for that memory.
I will miss him. Michael was -a dear friend and mentor.
Saifu and Nargis Dossaji
Wow, don’t even know where to begin, but here it is.
My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Michael many moons (1971) ago when I was a grad student from Kenya in Botany at UT. Since then we formed a very strong bond as friends and family.
Later in the years to come after our return to Kenya we kept in touch and shared excellent and fond memories and even visited Michael and Dorothea a few times in Austin.
In the years to follow Michael was as a Godfather to our sons and formed a special and loving bond with them as well.
Indeed, Michael was a fantastic individual always kind, gentle, full of humor and will be missed as a friend and family member in our lives.
Our sincere condolences to Dorothea and entire family. May Allah rest his soul in peace.
Michael was my thesis adviser at the Michener Center in 2015, and he taught a small group of us the bible in his office that same year. I count my experience as his student as one of the most meaningful of my education. Michael had the ability to make anyone who spent five minutes with him feel like they were part of a special inner circle here on earth, while at the same time you wondered if maybe he had access to a world beyond ours.
Nothing about Michael felt forced. He was generous without being showy, kind without being false. Michael's unapologetic self was a trove of warmth and curiosity, and he had a sharp and delightful sense of humor.
His passion for language and for his students still fills me with awe. He never missed a reading or book event. In 2014 he wrote to us Michener students: "Other than my wife and dog, YOU are the most precious thing in my life. Sharing your dreams with ME, of all people, gives meaning to a life whose emotional scales have tipped slightly toward the tenderness of reminiscence and memory and the absolute preciousness of the moment."
When I graduated, I asked Michael for a letter of recommendation. I'd heard rumors that Michael's letters were good--he said so himself--but I had no idea what I was in for. Often, people who request letters of rec waive the right to view them. Michael did not expect this. In fact, I think he would have been offended if we hadn't read his letters, because they were written for us more than for whatever committee reviewed them.
Michael's letter was three pages long, single-spaced, and quoted extensively from not only my thesis, but writing I'd done (which he tracked down) before I ever met him. I have always had a fear that if someone read my work too closely, they'd see through it. Instead, Michael showed me that upon close inspection--and there was no closer inspection than his, when it came to language--my work held up.
Thank you, Michael, for sharing your many gifts with us. Your legacy will live on in all the students' lives you've touched.
In the late spring of 2008, my wife and I were taking our new Labrador Retriever pup Sadie to Red Bud Isle for a swim. She was four months old and I had started training her for duck hunting. This was all new to me and I was looking for any help I could find. I saw Michael standing in the trail, his rubber boots on, a couple of training bumpers in his hand, and Blue, his handsome Labrador Retriever at heel. I was certain that I was looking at an accomplished trainer and working dog, it was written all over them. I soon began peppering him with questions, and in typical Michael fashion, he was friendly and helpful. I was hoping for some insight, training tips, and maybe a dog training partner. Instead, I was blessed with meeting and becoming best friends with one of the most interesting and intelligent humans I have ever known.
Over the next several years, Michael and I spent countless hours together training and talking dogs. He was training the trainer. Learning from Michael was easy and watching him handle Blue was joyful. He was kind, easy, and very thorough in his approach. Although I never sat in one of his classes, I suspect he was the same with his students. I soon found out Blue was more than just a good retriever. He was top shelf, had won many awards and competed at a very high level. He had achieved his Master Hunter title, a difficult and time consuming feat that few dogs reach. My dog Sadie worshipped Blue, in her own dog way she knew he was special. Michael and I took hunting trips together, working our dogs and being outdoors. We had memorable moments, like the time Michael got caught in the widening gap between my boat and the dock when Blue jumped off too soon. I was so caught up in the comedy of the moment Michael almost went for a swim. Or the time Sadie made a very long and complicated retrieve while Michael, Blue, and I watched, and my realization that Michael had helped me have this moment. I enjoyed his company. The times the four of us spent together are my fondest memories of Michael.
On one trip Dorothea joined us as we hunted the Texas coast. Blue was gone by now and Belle, their next dog, was with us. We had a wonderful time. Years later I helped a young friend of mine train his dog. Once we all gathered for dinner with our wives and celebrated the circle of friendship our dogs had created.
Michael was a communicator. He spent a lifetime communicating to students and peers. His artwork communicated to us his vision and interpretations. My wife and I are fortunate to have some of his artwork in our home. Every time l look at one of these paintings I am amazed at the depth of beauty. I feel honored to have known him, and although in my time with Michael we seldom talked about his teaching or artwork, like everyone else who knew him, I saw how genuine he was. Our talks were open and honest. This is what I loved about him most. Maybe our love for fine dog work created a bridge that allowed us to talk matters so easily, many times Michael would point out the parallels between humans and dogs.
Blue and Sadie and now gone. Belle and my dog Riley have taken their place. I would send pictures of Riley working to Michael, he always wanted to hear how she was doing. Belle and Riley are best friends, the same as their owners. Having known Michael has brought so much to my life and for that I am blessed.
When I arrived at the Dobie House as a frightened 23-year old fresh off the plane from the Philippines to attend my first year orientation, you were at the door to greet me with your wide, reassuring smile. I'll never forget our first meeting in which you made me feel, with the gentleness of your presence, that this house far away from my homeland could be my home too. I can't imagine the writer and person I would have become without your mentorship--you guided us with kindness and generosity, reading our stories closely and lending an attentive ear to what our words ached to say. It was the kind of mentorship that showed me just how important kindness was, more so than artistic achievement or professional success. I learned from you that kindness alone was what would pry ourselves open to the wonders of this world. And that this, more than anything, is necessary for our art.
When I emailed you about my father's sudden passing, you wrote back to me to say that I was "one of the special ones." Those words helped me survive the worst of my grief. Now that you're gone, it's like I lost another father. If there's an afterlife, there's nothing I would want more than for you to meet my dad, another gentle soul, and talk about Wallace Stevens.
I am heartbroken to learn of Dr. Adams's passing. He was a true Father to me and provided more listening, compassion, and emotional support than my own family during the most formative years.
I was very fortunate to be assigned to his freshman English course in Plan II, which ignited my lifelong admiration of and devotion for him. I took every course he taught during my time at U.T., each one a new delight and solace to my heart. He also supervised my honors thesis for Plan II as a senior at the university. I thought I could write before Dr. Adams, but it's as if I was reborn into thinking and writing only after him. Those were and always will be the happiest years of my life, all because of Him.
I was so blessed to be in his home and meet Dorothea, as well as Cooper and Blue. I will always regret losing touch and it is impossible to measure the depth of this loss. Dr. Adams was the only true Renaissance Man I have ever known; my heart's desire would have been to stay by his side forever and model my life in the vein of his.
Michael was a truly unique Being in this world and his absence from this plane of existence is painful. It felt as though our souls had a deep connection to each other, although anyone who knew or even encountered him likely felt the same. Perhaps he was one of the few people who made everyone he was with feel special; he certainly made me feel that way.
I will always remember his kindness, gentleness, and sensitivity -- qualities that were rare thirty years ago when we first met and are even rarer now.
I will never forget this measure of a work of Art that Michael taught me: its Form matches the Meaning it is trying to comprehend. Dr. Adams was a work of art himself, and the form of his life matched the meaning it imparted.
Dr. Adams, I love you and miss you. I hope and pray we will be reunited someday.
Michael was my thesis advisor while I was at the Michener Center and he gave so much more of his time, consideration and mentorship than I expected. The care and seriousness that brought to our meetings about my work meant the world to me and it was always a pleasure to sit and discuss writing generally and specifically in his office. He was both kind and smart with his advice and I was very sad to hear of his passing.
Uncle Michael. Words can’t express how much I miss you. Thank you for being the most amazing Godfather anyone could ask for.
You will always be with me.
Till we meet again 💜
Dear Uncle Mike,
I’m sad the world is without you now, but I believe you will never go away. You gave me so much. And so many so much. I’m grateful for your interest and support and encouragement. And love.
You made a lot of who I am. Love of language and books. So many books. And art and whole open worlds. You took me to my first bar (The Continental Club) and taught me to two-step at The Broken Spoke. You were always my hero.
I have so many fond memories. Your kindness and generosity live ever long. My heart is full of you.
Michael sent this to his sister Carol last yr
I am uploading a picture that I took at Paisano just a few weeks before his passing. I find it striking and imbued. with an openness but also perhaps too sad for this celebration. Please do use it if you think it is appropriate. rha
A Van Jordan
You will be missed, Michael. Your kind spirit was a balm during a tough time, just as I was started work in the department and managing the death of my father.
Michael always led with love, with gentleness, and with generosity. He was a great colleague and a wonderful man.
Barbara Nadalini Priesnitz
Michael will be missed. I've enjoyed reading more about him. My condolences to the family. Photo from Press Release.
Dear Michael, It was a blessing to know you at UT Austin. As time proved, again and again, you have been such a beautiful human being to that campus and to me. I feel so lucky to be one of your students and your friends. Because of your nourishing and cherishing, my family and I have had great times in Austin. One New Year, you and Dorothea came to our apartment on E. Riverside Dr. and gave my little son a Chinese Red Envelope. Over the years, you never turned me down whenever I approached you for something, being it a recommendation or a proofread of my new work. I didn’t realize how lucky I have been until now. I feel deep regret that we couldn't make a trip to visit you this past summer as you and I both wished. It's heartbreaking for me to miss the opportunity, and it'll be a forever sorrow. Dear Michael, rest in peace now, and May angels surround you with Hallelujah and Amen!