Politics & Government

SC politico who nursed a dying Lee Atwater remembered for big heart, bipartisanship

Robert Adams VI died on Jan. 26, 2019, from a sudden illness. Adams, 55, built an extensive background in S.C. politics as a GOP campaign consultant and State House lobbyist.
Robert Adams VI died on Jan. 26, 2019, from a sudden illness. Adams, 55, built an extensive background in S.C. politics as a GOP campaign consultant and State House lobbyist. Family of Robert Adams VI

He nursed a dying Lee Atwater and oversaw David Beasley’s long-shot campaign for governor.

Robert Adams VI built an extensive background in S.C. politics as a campaign consultant and State House lobbyist. But while his pedigree was Republican, his instincts and nature were bipartisan, according to family and friends.

“He was old school in the sense that once the elections were over, it was (about) working together to govern effectively,” said former Democratic S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges. “He put party label aside ... to solve problems. That’s why people were so touched by his life.”

Adams, 55, died Saturday after an illness. A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Columbia’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Remembrances and farewells poured in Monday from top movers and shakers from both sides of the political aisle.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson recalled being 15 years old and riding around putting up yard signs with Adams for the 1988 re-election campaign of his father — now-U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale — to the State Senate.

“Here’s this guy with boundless energy, sparkle, wit and charm,” Wilson said. “He was a guy who commanded respect from all political persuasions because you knew you could sit down and work with him.”

Adams, a senior vice president at McGuireWoods Consulting, where he worked with Hodges, was a disciple of Atwater’s and worked on the late President George H.W. Bush’s successful 1988 campaign for president.

“A hallmark of his life was helping people in need. He was always there in the clutch,” said his younger brother, Columbia attorney Weston Adams III, 53.

“At age 28, Robert was willing to leave his office job at the (Republican National Committee) in D.C. and go live in the Atwaters’ house, and help Lee and his family in Lee’s dying days,” Weston Adams said. “That is a rare and selfless 28 year old, and a perfect example of his service-oriented life.”

Robert Adams also ran campaigns for the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, among others, and served in the administrations of former S.C. Govs. Beasley and Mark Sanford, before starting his lobbying practice.

Beasley and Hodges remembered Adams, a noted conservationist, as warm and engaging with an encyclopedic knowledge of Richland County and S.C. history.

“He’s strong-willed and tough-minded, but ... collegial. He epitomizes what politics should be, as opposed to what it is,” Beasley said.

Adams’ father, attorney Weston Adams, won a Richland County seat in the S.C. House in 1972, losing it two years later when single-member districts were created. His father later became then-President Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the African nation of Malawi.

According to his obituary, Adams’ ancestors included governors, a U.S. senator, a Revolutionary War general, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Elizabeth “Betsy” Griscom Ross, maker of the first U.S. flag.

Adams is survived by his wife, Shana Voll Adams, and his sons, Pfc. Joel Adams and Robert Adams VII, as well as his parents, three brothers, nieces and nephews.

Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.