Adams, Nora B. (1928-2004)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 2/27/2008
  • Essay 8506

Nora B. Adams was an African American Seattle Public School principal who left more than  $1 million in her estate to three of her major interests.  She left $600,000 to the Seattle Public Schools Scholarship Fund and divided the rest between cancer and heart research.  A shrewd investor, Adams  divested herself of stock brokers and managed her own portfolio. She devoted 37 years to education, as a teacher and as an administrator and was one of the first Black female principals in the city.  According to her nephew, Gordon McHenry Jr. (Boeing executive and former member of the Seattle Public Library Board), she was the quintessential educator, not given to idle chatter but insisting on thoughtful and meaningful conversation. 

The Scholarship Fund
The Seattle Public School Scholarship Fund was established in 1974 to provide graduates of the district’s high schools funds for first-year college-related expenses.  Recipients are selected according to their academic achievement.  The Seattle Retired Teachers Association and individual donations support the scholarship fund.  It also collects interest on $90,000 in proceeds from an album recorded by former superintendent Donald Steele and country singer Tammy Wynette in the 1980s and $11,000 from contributions in honor of Ellen Roe, retiring board member of the Seattle Public Schools. 

When the news of Ms. Adams gift reached the foundation board, the members were pleasantly surprised and thrilled. 

Early years
Ms. Adams was born in Terrell, Texas, on November 20, 1928, the youngest of six children, to Nadie Johnson Long and J. W. Long. Her father served as principal of the local African American elementary school and because of the Southern custom of addressing Black people by their first names, not even  his children knew what his initials stood for.  

She left Terrell when it was time for high school because her older brother Wendell, who taught in Dallas, thought she could get a better education there. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1945, and attended Bishop College for one year.

One of her sisters married and moved to Seattle during World War II with her husband, who found employment at Bethlehem Steel. Two of her sisters followed, so in 1946, Ms. Adams joined them. She enrolled at Seattle University and received her B.A. in 1952 and her M. Ed. in 1959.
Career in Education
Ms. Adams began her career in the Seattle Public Schools as a teacher at Sharples Junior High School (now Aki Kurose).  She taught there for one year and then spent the next seven years at T. T. Minor Elementary School, one of the larger schools in the district and where she had done her practice teaching. In 1960, she moved to New Jersey and taught in Magnolia until 1966.  From 1967 until 1970 she served as principal in schools in Lawnside, Magnolia, and Camden, New Jersey. 

When she returned to Seattle in 1970, she was immediately appointed principal of  T. T. Minor, the  school of her longest tenure as a teacher. From 1976 until her retirement in 1989 she served as principal of four other elementary schools: Bryant (1976-1981), Sacagawea (1982-1985), and Dunlap (1984-1987), and she ended her career as principal of Seward Elementary School in 1989. To celebrate the end of her last school year she took the entire Seward student body and staff to Federal Way’s Wild Waves Enchanted Village.
Varied Interests
According to her sister Mildred McHenry (widow of Gordon McHenry, first Black engineer to be employed in management at Boeing), Nora was energetic, creative, and and a woman of many interests. She loved to travel and had time-shares around the world. In fact, one Christmas she and her husband Robert Adams drove their motor home to Mazatland, Mexico, and enjoyed the area so much that she got a leave from the school district and spent the rest of the year there. 

As children, Mildred and Nora took piano lessons from the local minister’s wife and Nora surpassed her in interest and dedication. She could play anything from jazz to Bach and Beethoven. In later years she learned to play the guitar. She also sang in the church choir at Trinity Parish. She did 75 certified walks with Volksport (American Volksport Association is a walking and hiking club), was a bowler, and an avid bridge player. An interest in art led her to produce sketches in black and white. Friends described her as cheerful, congenial, and warm.
Ms. Adams was married to A. J. Crawley in 1948 and to Robert Adams in 1971. She was preceded in death by Adams and by her son, Alonzo Crawley.


Eastlake News, May/June 2004; Mary Henry interview with Mildred McHenry, February 22, 2008, Seattle, Washington; John Iwasaki, “Nora Adams, 75, Was the Quintessential Educator,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 28, 2004; Seattle Public School Archives,  Seattle Schools Scholarship Fund Papers,” ( fund/history); Lorna Turnbull, “Nora Adams, Educator, ‘Spark Plug’ in Seattle, Dies at 75,” The Seattle Times, April 27, 2004 (
Note: This biography was corrected on March 30, 2008.

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