William Adams, 68, teller of tales from his Jamaica

February 28, 1999|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

William Adams, a Jamaican immigrant whose stirring tales of his homeland captivated local youngsters and young adults for more than 20 years, died Wednesday of heart failure in New York City, where he had moved from Jessup two years ago.

With gray, shoulder-length dreadlocks and a whisperlike voice and lilting accent, Mr. Adams, 68, would sit on a tree stump outside his home and spin fascinating -- and mostly true -- stories for residents.

"When he told a story, it was as though you were there," said his goddaughter, Christina Earley of Ellicott City. "He'd put you there and weave plots in and out of the setting. He was always so believable."

Friends said Mr. Adams had remarkable recall and could tell stories for hours -- no two the same -- and often left listeners in tears, energized or fantasizing about foreign lands.

When he told stories to young audiences, his tales usually had a moral, and he would ask the youngsters afterward whether they had understood it.

"He knew the cultures of Jamaica and would, let's say, embellish the stories," said John D. Backus, a longtime friend. "He had characters in them that he knew, or at least said he knew. They weren't always the most moralistic, but they were people who could be placed in the setting."

Mr. Adams also made treats in his home, such as ice cream, candies, cake and pies, that he sold in his community from a pickup truck throughout the year.

"Everyone knew Mr. Will," Mr. Backus said. "He made friends easily. He made you want to be his friend."

Mr. Adams came to the United States in the mid-1950s and lived in New York until about 1960. He came to Baltimore in 1965 and was a welder for Bethlehem Steel Corp. until 1990. He lived in Jessup from 1975 to 1997, when he moved back to New York.

He learned to make cakes and pies in the early 1960s, when he was a baker for a New York restaurant. He brought those skills to Jessup, where he began a fledgling business selling sweets to residents.

"He made fruity desserts that he put his own touch on," said Karole Simmons, a friend. "He experimented a lot with pineapples and cherries and blueberries."

Mr. Adams' tales were derived from his youth, spent in a small town near Kingston, Jamaica. As a boy, he helped chop trees for a logging business and traveled throughout the country, relatives said.

He told friends that he had been bitten by snakes, stung by a swarm of bees and chased by a scorpion -- all fodder for his tales.

"Everyone has a skill or talent of some sort," his goddaughter said. "The trick is using and developing it. He did that. His talent was captivating people, and he was very successful at it."

Services were held yesterday in New York.

He is survived by his wife, the former Marquerite R. Rose, whom he married in 1959; three sons, Walter Adams of Jamaica, Willard Adams of New York City and Wallace Adams of Albany, N.Y.; two daughters, Wye Toohey of Baltimore and Winde Callen of Washington; a brother, Lawrence Adams of Atlanta; a sister, Elizabeth Adams of Jamaica; and 11 grandchildren.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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