DOWNEY — John Quincy Adams, the locally acclaimed writer, editor and poet who spent more than a decade reporting on local news before creating The Downey Patriot, where he served in dual capacities as both publisher and editor, died Wednesday at a Norwalk nursing home.
Adams passed away at Southland Care Center of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 69.
A public memorial service is scheduled for Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. inside the Harriett Paine Event Center at Downey Adult School. Mayor Mario Guerra will officiate.
Adams is perhaps best known as the longtime editor of the Downey Eagle before establishing the Patriot. At both papers he provided readers with a pulse of the town, through extensive news coverage of city issues and folksy, first-person columns that ran weekly in the Editorial section.
Adams was born in Reseda on March 18, 1939. His formative years were spent in Northern California, where he graduated from San Francisco State University in 1966 with a BA in History. In 1964 Adams had already secured a reporting job with the San Francisco Chronicle, where he mainly reported on sports with occasional forays into city issues. It was at the Chronicle where Adams - almost unilaterally described by friends as a liberal Democratic - efficiently covered the floor of the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco.
After earning his degree, he moved on to the Richmond (Contra Costa) Independent and Berkeley Gazette, where he was a crime reporter and feature writer. For two years he also handicapped thoroughbred racing for the sports sections of both papers, writing under the name John Quincy.
In May 1984, the publishers of both newspapers sued each other over terms of sale of the publications. The litigation subsequently landed both newspapers in bankruptcy court, and Adams was out of a job.
Adams enjoyed a passion for horseracing, and in 1984 he landed work with Fowli Thoroughbred Racing Stables as a racing agent. He left after two years, and began delivering cars for an automobile shipping service. But Adams' passion for writing never left him. As he bounced from one to job to another, he began compiling books of poetry for future publication. He also contributed to an anthology of Berkeley poets, titled "All Birds Have Feathers."
It was in February 1988 that Adams found his way to Downey, when he was hired as city editor of the Downey News-Tribune. As Adams put it, he "wrote and covered all news in the city of Downey, including providing pictures and page makeup." The gig was short-lived, only nine months.
In late 1988 Adams took a job as reporter for the Wave Newspaper group, covering South Central Los Angeles with an emphasis on crime. He also covered Inglewood and Hawthorne city halls, wrote feature stories, and covered the "full spectrum of reporting," in addition to freelancing as a photographer.
He returned as a reporter for the News-Tribune in the summer of 1990. On Dec. 28, 1990, he was promoted to his previous position of city editor, but with the additional duties of covering the Downey Unified School District and Cerritos College Board of Trustees. This is about the time he met two of his best friends, former Downey superintendent of Downey Unified School District Ed Sussman and former Assemblywoman Sally Havice.
"John was such a good person, just a wonderful human being," said Sussman, who accompanied Adams on a few trips to Los Alamitos Race Course to bet on the horses. "John was a man of extremely high integrity. That's why I never hid anything from him, never. Of all the media people I think John was the honest of all reporters. He was interested in getting things straight and correct."
Havice, now working as an English professor at Cerritos College, called Adams a "loyal, steadfast friend."
"You could always depend on him to be a person of tremendous integrity and strength of purpose," she said. "He knew right from wrong and he always went to the side of right. He stood up for what he believed in - it sounds almost trite in this day and age - but he was really a person who stood up for what he believed in."
While she was in office, Havice said she would meet with Adams regularly to discuss politics and city issues.
"We shared philosophies about politics and government service, and what it means to be an elected public official," Havice said. "He always gave me really good insight into issues. It's supposed to be the other way around!
"He never told you what to do, but you know, with his experience, he had so many years of experience in the world and he knew a lot of things," Havice continued. "He saw issues for many years and he saw their beginning and their progress and their outcome. So he was a good resource person for me. And I think I was a good resource person for him too."
The News-Tribune ceased publication in January 1992. Two months later he joined the Mid-Cities Examiner as an editor, where he and staff attempted to "re-establish [the] Mid-Cities Examiner as a community weekly newspaper in Downey…" The Examiner never established a connection with readers, and Downey was without a community newspaper until 1993, when Downey resident and developer Jerry Andrews launched the Downey Eagle.
Andrews and Adams first met at the outside patio of Mimi's Café. The meeting came at the urging of former Downey mayor Joyce Lawrence. Andrews said he instantly settled on Adams as the Eagle's editor.
"He brought the years of experience I didn't have," said Andrews. "John brought stability, and was even-handed in his approach. He always wanted to express both sides.
"He knew how to run a newspaper, but more importantly he knew how not to run a newspaper."
Andrews said he would occasionally run an "experiment" past Adams, who would usually shoot down the idea. "And that was OK," Andrews said. "He brought a lot to the town. He brought skill and judgment. This is a much better town because of him."
Andrews' daughter, Tanya, was the Eagle's business manager. She said Adams' fondness for Downey was genuine.
"He cared about the people, not so much the location," she said. "He loved the community, and the community loved him."
The Eagle ceased publication in 2002 after 10 years in business. Using mostly the same writing and advertising staff, Adams launched The Downey Patriot on May 3, 2002. In a promise to readers, Adams vowed to "maintain a family atmosphere in its pages at all times." He also promised to maintain a high-level of journalistic integrity.
"Why should you read The Downey Patriot?" Adams editorialized in the Patriot's first issue. "Because you have a right to know what is happening in your local community. The First Amendment is not only a right, it is a privilege and a challenge to inform in the best interests of the community and nation. The Downey Patriot accepts this challenge."
Adams maintained an active, hands-on role as the Patriot slowly developed into a respected news-weekly.
"The Patriot wouldn't be what it is without John," said Stan Hanstad, an assistant superintendent with DUSD. "John was brilliant, one of the best writers I've ever known. He was always very positive, but very honest and very thorough."
Since his days at the News-Tribune, Adams would join DUSD administrators every Friday at district headquarters for coffee and donuts. Together they would read the newspaper together and discuss local issues.
"He helped promote DUSD," said Hanstad. "We didn't always share the same take on things. There were times we'd argue when it came to children and philosophies. But there were times he'd say 'I appreciate what you do for the kids,' and that was his way of saying 'We may not agree, but I admire you.' The feeling was mutual."
Downey City Manager Gerald Caton shared similar sentiments.
"I put John right at the top," Caton said. "To me he was a very special person as he always tried to get all the facts straight. He probably called me - without exaggeration - several hundred times to find out what was going on."
Caton said Adams would sit in the same seat at City Council meetings (back row, left side) and would occasionally be the only person in audience during routine and sometimes mundane budget meetings.
"John put together a great local paper," Caton said. "Basically if you lived in Downey you were really fortunate."
Councilman David Gafin had known Adams since the early 1990's, when Gafin became involved with the Downey Chamber of Commerce.
"What a super guy, he was Mr. Downey," said Gafin, who also worked as Adams' accountant. "I don't think there's been an event in 20 years where he was not there. He was very vocal, camera in hand. When you turned around he was there.
"He was not just a reporter, but a fixture in town."
As current Police Chief Roy Campos rose through the ranks of the Downey Police Department, he became familiar with Adams as well.
"He respected the entities within a city, respected journalism, but also respected and treasured the need for the public to be informed," Campos said. "And as an editor he always made it a point to speak the truth. And then he had the courage to publish it."
Unfortunately, an on-going battle with Parkinson's disease slowly took its toll on Adams' health. Adams would lose his balance and fall in public, although he usually refused help getting back on his feet.
"He had such a drive to do his job, with his deteriorating health, his drive would sometimes place him at risk," Campos said. "We had to help him by his arm to get him around sometimes."
Through it all, Adams maintained a positive sense of humor. At one point, he even proposed writing an article titled "The Top 10 Places to Fall in Downey." In October 2006, Adams sold the Patriot to Jennifer DeKay-Givens, a former Miss Downey Princess who had been working as the Patriot's business manager. Adams, who by now was living at Downey Retirement Center, stayed on as editor emeritus, assisting with editing duties and the newspaper's overall direction.
"John had his finger on the heartbeat of the city," said DeKay-Givens, who first met Adams as a student at Downey High School. "Without him the Patriot wouldn't be here. We dedicate this issue to him."
Adams spent the last year of his life at Southland nursing home in Norwalk, where he received regular visits from friends, including Sussman, Hanstad, DUSD board member Martha Sodetani, and Mayor Mario Guerra. Sodetani regularly brought him reading materials through the Assistance League's Book on Wheels programs. On a book request form, Adams requested history and anthropology books, and varied fiction. "The stranger the better," he wrote.
When notified of his passing, Sodetani said she had books in the trunk of her car she was preparing to deliver to him.
"It was not just the books that took me to see him. It was much more than that. As a matter of fact, I did not always even take books when I went there" said Sodetani, who would often bring her children for a visit. "It was much more than the books. It was the camaraderie. He opened my children's eyes to be more compassionate."
Guerra would bring Adams non-fiction books and other small gifts as well.
"John was a simple man who cared about our city very much," said Guerra, a deacon with St. Raymond's Catholic Church. "He had high journalistic values and was well-known throughout our city. "He represented what a local newspaper should be. His legacy will be one of kindness and love for our citizens and our community…He always left me with a smile, as best as he could."
Over the course of his career Adams earned many awards for journalism and communtiy service. He was a member of the Wave editorial staff that won Best Weekly of the Year Awards from the Los Angeles Press Club in 1988 and 1989; co-winner for Best News Story in 1988; Best Sports Story in 1982 by the Contra Costa Press Club; and Best News Story in 1978.
Adams is survived by a daughter and legions of friends. Next week's City Council and DUSD board of education meetings will be adjourned in his honor. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Adams' favorite organizations: Arc of Southeast Los Angeles County, 12049 Woodruff Ave., Downey, CA 90241; Downey Historical Society, 12450 Rives Ave., P.O. Box 554, Downey, CA 90241; and Downey Rose Float Association, P.O. Box 765, Downey, CA 90241.
********** Published: January 23, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 40