Delaware mourns a friend

Hundreds gather to honor Sen. Thurman Adams

By GINGER GIBSON

The News Journal

BRIDGEVILLE — The crowd of friends, relatives and elected officials that walked behind the Delaware flag-draped coffin of Sen. Thurman Adams Saturday morning illustrated the type of life he lived — one marked by public service and a close-knit family.

The Sussex County lawmaker was described as “a man of few words,” honest and down to earth by those who spoke at the funeral in Bridgeville that drew hundreds to the Woodbridge High School auditorium.

Adams was the longest-serving senator in state history and died Tuesday, within one week of learning he had pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

In the eulogy, Vice President Joe Biden said Adams had “a graciousness that defined the whole family.”

“One of my proudest boasts in life is that I was a friend of Thurman Adams,” Biden said.

Biden described how he depended on Adams as a friend and confidant for years, not just in public life but also private life. Biden and Adams met when they were both running for office in 1972 — the year Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate and Adams to the state Senate.

Biden said he turned to Adams for advice after the deaths of his first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, feeling confident enough to confide in him despite having only known him a short time.

Biden said he knew that whatever he told Adams would not leave the screen porch at his Bridgeville home. For that reason, he was able to confide that he wanted to leave the U.S. Senate because of the deaths of his wife and daughter.

“I don’t think we’re going to see someone like him for a long, long time,” Biden said. “Men like him don’t come along every few years. They come along every few generations.”

Biden said Adams stuck to his word with an honesty and integrity that was sometimes seen as a fault by those who worked with him.

“He never changed in all those years,” Biden said. “He drove a lot of governors crazy … I was never governor. I never had to go through Governor-Senator Adams.”

But former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who attended the funeral, said her friendship with Adams started long before she was in elected office, when he helped her get the Highway Commission to reroute plans for a road that was slated to be built 12 feet from her front door. He got them to avoid her house as the state constructed the road that eventually became Del. 1.

“He was always a friend, even if he was giving me a problem about something,” she said.

While those at the funeral represented Adams’ years of state service, his daughters, Lynn Kokjohn and Polly Mervine, said Adams was always a father first.

The two shared stories of trips to Seaford for pizza and Adams pulling them through the fields on their sleds when it snowed. Mervine said he was devoted to his children and would give them whatever they needed. She remembered a recent occasion when she asked for assistance.

“He said, ‘Polly, when I die I couldn’t stand knowing that I could have helped my family in some way and didn’t,’ ” she said.

Jay Mervine, Adams’ son-in-law, spoke during the funeral, saying he was blessed to have married into the family.

“We were blessed by the touch of this great man and we will carry those blessings with us,” Mervine said. “It’s always been a source of pride for me to call him Dad.”

After the service, mourners filed out of the school and assembled in the street. The coffin, led by Adams’ eight grandchildren, was rolled to the final resting place.

Police blocking traffic stopped to salute as the color guard and bagpipers led the procession down Laws Street.

Constituents assembled on the sidewalks and on porches to watch the procession that included Biden and wife Jill, who held Polly Mervine’s hand as they walked.

The small town, surrounded by corn and soy fields, stood still while most of its residents participated in the funeral.

“The impact he left on this state, Sussex County and Bridgeville is hard to exaggerate,” Biden said in his eulogy. “I find it hard to determine where Bridgeville ends and Thurman Adams begins.”