In Memoriam

Rachel Adams '45
She was literally a tree hugger.

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Although very much a New Englander—she was born in Maine, raised in New Hampshire, and had a New Englander's dry wit—Rachel Adams grew to love the Northwest after moving to Washington state's San Juan Islands in 1975. It was there, surrounded by woods and water, that she fully indulged her lifelong love of nature. "She actually knew one chickadee from the next on her birdfeeders," says her friend Molly Herzog.

After graduating from UNH at age 19, Adams served as a second lieutenant in the Women's Medical Specialist Corps. She left the Army and then rejoined during the Korean War, and spent the next 21 years at Army posts in the United States and abroad. In 1955, she earned a master's degree in physical therapy from the University of Southern California. She excelled in Army sports, says her niece Emily Watkins, winning the women's All-Army tennis singles championship in 1956 and the singles and doubles championships a year later. She retired in 1969 as a lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit medal.

For six years after her retirement, Adams lived in a cabin in Belgrade Lakes, Maine, before joining a friend, Marilynn Anderson, on Crane Island in Washington. She arrived with Clio, a stray cat she had rescued as a kitten that would be her constant companion until the cat died at age 23. On Crane, Adams mastered ham radio, then the islands' only means of communication, and the two women tended 7 acres of gardens and raised cows, chickens and rabbits. At one point Adams befriended an eagle that used to wait for her at the end of her favorite walking path.

Being close to the natural world always brought Adams her greatest joy. Although she majored in physical education, in 2010 she told a UNH Magazine writer, "If there had been the same job opportunities for women [in 1945] that there are today, I probably would have been a forestry major." She was "literally, a tree hugger," says Herzog, adding that Adams hoped to be reincarnated as a tree.

Adams' sense of humor endeared her to her niece Watkins, who, as a teenager, traveled with her father to visit her aunt in Texas. Adams urged her Bostonian brother to try an unusual-looking pepper at the officers' mess, and then sat back and chuckled at the look on his face when he unsuspectingly bit into a jalapeno. Years later, Adams was equally able to find humor in her own life, even as it took an unexpected turn with a diagnosis of aplastic anemia. Before she died on June 21, at 86, she was so inundated with cards and phone calls from concerned friends that she told Herzog, "I'm beginning to think I'd like to meet myself!"

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