Elizabeth Nelson Adams
22 January, 1941 – 2 March, 2020
Poet and artist Elizabeth Nicholson Nelson Adams, PhD died in Columbia, SC on March 2, 2020, at the age of 79. Elizabeth was the wife of Ambassador Weston Adams, and died on the 58th anniversary of their wedding day.
Elizabeth was born in Columbia on January 22, 1941, and was the daughter of Elizabeth Juliet Nicholson Nelson and Patrick Henry Nelson. Through her father’s family, who were historically from Camden and Clarendon County, she descended from men and women who were active participants throughout South Carolina’s history: Revolutionary General Richard Richardson; Revolutionary War heroine Dorothy Sinkler Richardson; Governor William McWillie; General James Willis Cantey; Lt. Colonel P.H. Nelson; and Colonel William Shannon. Likewise, her mother’s Nicholson family of Edgefield was devoted to public service, and those forebears included U.S. Senator John Hunter, Governor John Sheppard, Congressman Daniel Wallace, and SC House Speaker/General William Wallace.
Elizabeth was educated at Columbia High School, where she was a Merit Scholar. She attended St. Mary’s College (Raleigh, NC) and the University of South Carolina, where she earned a BA, an MA, and a PhD.
Like her antecedents, Elizabeth was a woman of action. She raised four sons while simultaneously earning a PhD. She taught English at USC, Columbia College, and, most meaningfully, at Benedict College. As a graduate student, she worked for historian C. Vann Woodward on his Pulitzer Prize winning edition of Mary Boykin Chesnut’s Civil War Diary. She was also a poet who published her work in a variety of academic journals, and ultimately published her collected poetry, Gathering the Rain, in 1990.
Further, she was also an accomplished painter and lithographer who exhibited her art in shows in Lilongwe (Malawi), Los Angeles, Nantucket, Palm Beach, Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Camden, and Columbia. Additionally, the breadth of her artistic scope breadth was shown by her acting role in her son Julian Adams’ first feature film.
Elizabeth was community minded, as seen in her service as a Commissioner on the SC Arts Commission from 1995 to 2000. She also served on the Board of Directors for the SC Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville. As lagniappe, she was a lifelong outstanding athlete, who played tennis well into her 70’s.
From 1984 to 1986, Elizabeth lived in Lilongwe, Malawi with her family, where her husband served as the US Ambassador. Her painting and writing were influenced by the 2 year stint in this southeast African country. Upon her return to the US, she published her Five Malawian Writers: An Essay in Personal Exploration (1987). While in Malawi, she was a philanthropic leader in the diplomatic community, as evidenced by the fashion show fundraiser that she organized at the US Embassy in Lilongwe.
She was a member of the New Century Book Club, the Wisteria Garden Club, the Colonial Dames, and the Assembly, the latter of which she served as President. She made her debut at both the Assembly and the Columbia Cotillion Club.
She is survived by her husband Ambassador Weston Adams, son Weston Adams, III (m. Elizabeth Boykin Adams), son Rev. Daniel Wallace Adams-Riley (m. Rev. Gena Adams-Riley), son Julian Calhoun Adams, II, and grandchildren Isabel Hope Adams, Joel Adams, Edward Weston Boykin Adams, Robert Adams, VII, Patrick Henry Nelson Adams-Riley, Fin M’Coul Adams-Riley, and Elizabeth “Libba” Wentworth Adams. Other family includes brother-in-law Dr. Julian C. Adams, sister Nina Geddes Nelson Smith and husband James Emerson Smith, sister-in-law LeGrand Moorer Nelson, nephews/nieces former Rep. James Emerson Smith, William Shannon Nelson, Francis Pickens Nelson, Caroline LeGrand Nelson, Helen Calhoun Adams, cousin Bettis Rainsford, and countless other kinsmen. She was predeceased by son Robert Adams, VI, brother William Shannon Nelson, niece Kathleen Shannon Smith Stuckey, nephew Patrick Henry Nelson, and nephew Charles St. George Sinkler Adams.
The funeral and burial will be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1151 Elm Savannah Road, Congaree, SC at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 7, 2020 with her son Rev. Daniel Wallace Adams-Riley officiating. A reception for family and friends will follow at her son’s nearby farm. Memorial gifts may be made to the Columbia Museum Art.
Dunbar Funeral Home, Devine Street Chapel, is assisting the family. Memories may be shared at www.dunbarfunerals.com.
Saturday, 7 March , 2020
Elizabeth Nelson Adams
Fletcher Spigner III
4 March 2020
The honor I feel to share a little of my 3rd cousin's ancestry is second only to the sadness I feel that she is now another one not among us any longer, but her spirit, I know, remains. When I look back, as I do often, into my family's past, I remember my mother Henrietta Geddes Bailey speaking so highly and fondly of Elizabeth's entire family, as I grew to love you all. Know that there are so many people who have been impacted positively by her time here on earth. God be with you all.
Fletcher Spigner III
4 March 2020
Yes Elizabeth was indeed sweetness and life! Enjoyed interacting with her over many years of service to the family. Her gentle spirit will be missed!
3 March 2020
She was the sweetest "2nd mom" to me growing up at the Adams' house. I have such fond memories of seeing her with her beautiful smile.... Always glad to see you....