Michael Percy Adams (W 46-50) 1933-2021

Mike Adams On Black Background Reduced Size

It is with great sadness that the OS Club shares the news that OS Club Vice-President and former Sedbergh School Governor, and former OS Club Chairman (1990-94), Mike Adams, passed away on 23rd December 2021, aged 88.

Mike was a keen cricketer and rugby player at Sedbergh, playing for the School in both sports. After leaving Sedbergh, Mike managed the children’s clothing business, Adams, which was established by his mother in 1933 and he continued in this role after the company was sold to Foster Brothers and then Sears Holdings. Mike was later the OS Club Chairman from 1990-1994 and was a lifelong loyal and generous supporter and friend to the School.

A Memorial Service will be held at Sedbergh School Chapel before the Wilson Run Dinner on Monday 21st March at 4:00pm for any OS who would like to pay their respects to Mike. Headmaster, Dan Harrison, also warmly invites all those in attendance for refreshments in Queen’s Hall following the service. Please contact Ben Collins at bpc@sedberghschool.org if you are planning on attending the service.

Please see a message below from OS Club Chairman Jan van der Velde (L 77-82):

It is with great sadness that I write regarding the loss of Michael Adams, a Vice-President of the OS Club and former OS Club Chairman, as well as former Governor of the School, who passed away on the morning of 23rd December.

Michael was a much loved grandee of the Sedbergh Community. His considered approach, dry wit, stature, and enthusiasm for all things Sedbergh, made him popular with staff and OS of all generations. A deeply caring man, he would listen attentively to those who sought his advice, ponder, and then offer words of wisdom which were much valued and acted upon. While we will all have our own personal reflections, this is how I came to know him, as a father of a dear friend of mine from Winder House, who offered guidance when I needed it, and for many years acted as a mentor in business as I found my own way in the world. His understanding of human nature, which was to bring him so much success in his own business life, gave him insight and clarity when the world at times seemed complex. He will be deeply missed by me, by the OS Club, and by the OS community. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, Jan, Mark, and Guy at this time.

Jan van der Velde

Chairman, OS Club

Mike Adams Small File

Please see below an obituary from son Guy Adams (W 77-82):

Born on the 30th March 1933 in Moseley, Birmingham, to Amy and Dennis, Michael was the younger brother of Christine; his parents were shortly to open their business, a childrenswear outfitter, called D. P. Adams Ltd. It was in Kings Heath, and the family moved to live above the shop. In September 1939, with the outbreak of war, it was decided to evacuate Michael from Birmingham and send him to Grosvenor House Prep School in Harrogate. He was just 6 years old.  

Only a few weeks into his time at Grosvenor, still aged 6, this story illustrates the spirit of endeavour that was to characterise Michael’s life: one evening, Michael decided he wanted to do more to support the war effort. He persuaded his friend, Plukey Patterson, that they really should be across in France and helping by getting stuck into some fighting action against the Nazis. That night, they slipped out of the school grounds and set off. As they marched along the road, a lorry pulled up beside them. 

You can picture the scene: “Alright lads, where are you going?”. Michael, now standing to attention, replying in an instant “we’re off to Dover, and then France to fight in the war” 

“Very good lads, I happen to be going there myself, jump in and I’ll give you a lift.” 

After driving for a short while, the lorry driver pulled over to a roadside café. 

“It’s a long way to Dover, lads, I need a cuppa before I set off. What can I get you?”    

“Two hot chocolates, please,” piped up Michael. 

In the café, the driver rang the local police station, the boys were returned to school, welcomed back, and nothing more was said about the episode. 

Tragically, 6 years on, when Michael was 12, his father died. Dennis had been serving in the Fleet Air Arm and he passed away in the military hospital in Bristol. A decision was made for Michael to stay in Yorkshire and not attend his father’s funeral. In later years, he used to wistfully say that he never had the chance to get to know his father as a man or as a friend. 

His mother had no idea what to do regarding Michael’s schooling after Grosvenor House, so sought advice. The Headmaster recommended a school that Amy had never heard of, Sedbergh School in Cumbria. Not knowing just how significant that decision was to be for him, and so many, Michael arrived at Sedbergh railway station along with the rest of the new intake, in September 1946. His all-round sporting abilities and natural friendliness ensured that he thrived in the Sedbergh environment. 

Another story about Michael, this time from his early days at Sedbergh: he suggested to his first-year friends that they should not stand for anymore bullying from a few of the second-year boys but go and sort them out. His friends rallied around him, and Michael led the charge into the second-year common room. Hearing the ominous click of the common room door close behind him as his support group disappeared into thin air meant he came out on the wrong end of a few blows, but with the respect of all involved for his courage in standing up for what he felt to be right. 

Michael did not allow himself to be discouraged if confronted by a set-back at any stage in his life.  An early example of this, which he was to prove manifestly wrong by the financial acumen that he displayed in his business success in later years, was his maths report for the Lent term of 1949: 

“Adams resembles a roulette wheel, in that there seems to be no particular reason why one number should come up rather than another. But he is cheerful, at least.”  

School holidays back from Grosvenor house and Sedbergh were spent above the shop in Kings Heath, his mother now running the business in its entirety. After leaving Sedbergh, National service with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment came next. This took Michael to Vienna and Graz. Because of his immense modesty, it took a great deal of prising out of him to find out that he was the only National Service Officer to be promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, such was the distinction with which he served the regiment and led his men. And, like his time at Sedbergh, Michael made lifelong friendships. 

A sales course at Nottingham college followed his time with the Royal Warwicks and this in turn led to a job as a commercial traveller covering the South coast for a firm called Sharp Perrin. Throughout his life, Michael always worked hard, and played hard. He loved leading or, equally, being part of a good team. In this chapter of his life, he indulged in his passion for playing cricket and rugby for a club in Wimborne. 

In August 1957, he was invited on a blind date of mixed doubles tennis. It was there that he met a certain Jan Lowe, who caught his eye immediately. Three months later they were engaged, and another three months later, on 29th March 1958, Jan and Michael were married. It was a wonderful marriage – Michael always said he worshipped the ground Jan walked on – that was to last 63 years. Shortly after the wedding, Michael was promoted to a different sales area, in the North-West of England, and the newly-weds moved to the Wirral near Liverpool. A couple of years later, he was persuaded to join his mother, to help run the business. So, in 1960, he and Jan moved to Solihull. Mark was born in November of that year, and Guy in January of 1964. By 1966, there were 5 shops, and the business was flourishing. In 1968, the family moved to live in Broad Oaks Road which was a home Michael absolutely loved and which has remained his and Jan’s home ever since. 

As a father to Mark and Guy growing up, he was always encouraging, always listening, and always wanted the best for his sons. He offered his advice, but never forced it on them. He was determined to give every possible opportunity for them to do what they wanted with their lives and supported them to the hilt. As well as running the business and being a family man, Michael generously volunteered his time to be founder Chairman of Knowle and Dorridge Round table, the Chairman of Warren Pearl (a nursing home in Solihull), and Chairman of the Grove Retirement Home, also in Solihull. 

The business plans that Michael and his mother had were given an unexpected boost in 1973 when a national chain of menswear shops, called Foster Brothers, approached them to see if a merger would provide the right impetus to expand Adams Childrenswear across the country. A deal was struck and within a few years there were 70 Adams Childrenswear branches on the UK high street. Michael became Managing Director of the Fosters group of companies and achieved considerable commercial success in the subsequent decades. Adams childrenswear expanded to over four hundred branches or concessions throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, and Michael became a main board director of the holding company, Sears. 

As with his school years, as with his army years, in his working years Michael made lifelong friendships with those he liked and respected. 

One of Michael’s mantras about business was: ‘Be ruthless about the decision, but then be as compassionate as you can be about how you carry that decision out’. An example illustrates MPA (as he was known at work) doing just this: In a poor national economic climate, in the strike ridden and union dominated Britain of the 1970s, the Fosters group of companies needed to cut costs in order to stay in business. The board, led by MPA, recognised that they needed to lay-off the entire lorry-driver workforce. MPA told the board that he would convey the decision, in person, and asked for the lorry drivers to be gathered together for a meeting with him. The men were assembled, and MPA went in to break the news of their impending redundancy. After he had finished, there was a pause, and then, to a man, the lorry drivers all stood up and applauded him. Already held in such high regard by his staff, these men recognised and respected the honesty and integrity which characterised MPA, acknowledging it as best they could with their applause. 

Since 1974, when Mark followed in his footsteps to Sedbergh, Michael had a constant involvement with the school. He became a governor and was Chairman of the OS Committee. 

Michael retired in 1993. He held some non-executive roles, but having more time allowed him the opportunity to do the things he wanted to do, such as his and Jan’s generous involvement with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and extended sojourns at La Ville Josse, (Jan and Mike’s property in Brittany since 1990), which was another home that he loved. 

Many happy years were spent with Jan, travelling to La Ville Josse or Loftus Manor in Sedbergh, trips to New Zealand, Canada, around Europe and the much-prized visits to Australia. He loved family time and family holidays more than anything else and the last holiday together was a memorable trip to South Africa in 2018. 

Difficult to believe for someone who was such a high achiever, but Michael loved nothing more than his model railway, pottering in his greenhouse, or turning over his vegetable patch, or growing amongst other produce and plants, his tomatoes and sweet peas. In France, he whistled so contentedly when sawing and then bringing in logs for the fires. 

To say Michael relished and thrived on good company throughout his life is an understatement. It was a huge tonic for him. He would, almost always (!), judge the occasion perfectly and decide whether to be deliberately controversial, irreverent, fun, quiet, serious or whatever was best suited to the proceedings. When debating, he would marshal his argument cogently, and expect the same from whomever he was debating with. However, he didn’t like it if he was proven wrong and didn’t win the debate! Michael’s presence could not be missed. He even had a big presence round the breakfast table first thing in the morning. 

Michael and Jan together were an amazing team in every way and especially when it came to hosting a whole range of people and events. And, they always had their eye out for whoever might need some gentle encouragement and support.  

The last 8 months of Michael’s life were difficult for him as his health deteriorated. Jan, as she has done throughout their life together, looked after him with a love and care that no one else could match. Jan’s dedication to Michael was the foundation on which he built his life. He would have been utterly lost without her. 

And how did Michael deal with the problems that beset him in those last few months? With the same courage, determination and perseverance that marks out his entire life. Still able to absorb pressure and remain calm, he was selfless, uncomplaining and positive. Right to the end his mind was as sharp and active as ever. He passed away peacefully, dignified and proud, kind and thoughtful to the end. 

Loving, generous, considerate, witty, loyal, bright, modest, shrewd, thoughtful, forgiving, fun-loving; a gentleman, a gentle man, and a gentle giant. Michael was many things, and thoroughly deserved all the good things for which he worked so hard.  

Back to that remarkably prescient school report from lent Term 1949, and what his Housemaster and Headmaster thought of him: His Housemaster: “I am sure such worthy effort will gain it’s reward in the end; and no one can show a character more honest, sincere, and commendable”; the Headmaster, “he really deserves the greatest credit.” 

Well done, Michael, you certainly do. 

Guy Adams (Winder 77-82)