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150 Years of Trinity Family History

Monday, November 25, 2019
portrait of adamson and picture of great-grandparents with students in 1800s

Larry Adamson ’54 and his family have been involved in Trinity since its founding 

by Mike Patterson

When Larry Adamson ’54 compiles a list of family members who have Trinity connections, he has to go back 150 years to the University’s founding in Tehuacana in 1869. That’s when his great-grandparents, William Paxton Gillespie and his wife, Kate, served on the first faculty.

From those early days until now, Adamson has had family members involved in every period of the University’s history.

Paxton Gillespie was professor of ancient languages and literature while Kate Gillespie was principal of the female department. R. Douglas Brackenridge’s book, Trinity University: A Tale of Three Cities, contains a photo of them and their boarding students standing in front of their home in 1902. That also happens to be the last year that Trinity was in Tehuacana before moving to Waxahachie.

Their early involvement with Trinity sparked multi-generations and relations of family members to attend, extending from the late 19th century to a granddaughter’s graduation in 2002.

Adamson’s family tree at Trinity starts this way:

The Gillespies’ daughter, Pearl Bradley Gillespie, attended Trinity, where she met Frederick Richmond Adamson, an English major. Both graduated in the late 1800s. Frederick went to medical school in Tennessee, and Pearl stayed home teaching private music lessons and spending most of the days practicing the piano.  Eventually, she toured to New York as a concert pianist.

After medical school, Frederick returned to Texas and asked Pearl to marry him. Pearl said yes and made the decision to join Frederick in raising a family. “She never played the piano seriously again,” Adamson says. “She literally gave it up for her family. It was her choice, but I feel it was a tragedy.”

Frederick and Pearl were Adamson’s paternal grandparents. His maternal grandparents also attended Trinity. William Henry Baker was a Presbyterian minister and his second wife, Anna Louise Anderson Baker, attended Trinity and taught high school English after graduation. Adamson’s maternal grandmother, Effie Hardin Baker, died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Baker, with his first wife, had two daughters: Larry’s mother, Clarie, and Lucie Mae. The two daughters and Lucie Mae’s eventual husband, Tod Pazdral, graduated from Trinity in 1928. William Henry Baker, with his second wife, had two children: a daughter, Anna Louise, herself a Trinity graduate, and a son, William Henry Jr., who graduated from Texas A&M.

Frederick and Pearl settled in Anson, about 30 miles north of Abilene, Texas, where he set up his medical practice. When their children neared college age, the family pulled up stakes. Frederick moved his medical practice in Waxahachie “so that his children could stay home and go to Trinity. Isn’t that ridiculous?” Adamson says with a chuckle.

Frederick and Pearl’s two sons and daughter attended Trinity.

Their first born, William Bluford Adamson, Larry Adamson’s uncle, graduated in 1924. After attending medical school, he moved to Abilene, where he had a cardiology practice for many years.

“He gave a great deal to Trinity, including part of his library and a farm, which turned out to be very lucrative for Trinity,” Adamson recalls.

Adamson’s father, F. Lawrence Adamson, attended Trinity, served as student body president, and met and married Clarie. He graduated in 1927, she in 1928.

Three of Larry Adamson’s aunts attended Trinity—Mary C. Bynum ’31, Lawrence Adamson’s sister; and Lucie Mae Pazdral ’28 and Louis Noyes ’44, his maternal grandparent’s daughters. Two of Lucie Mae’s daughters also attended Trinity—Sue Youngs ’57 and Joan Pinkerton, who began in 1950 but did not graduate. Sue and Joan are Larry Adamson’s cousins. Sun Youngs’ son, Jay Tanner, attended Trinity for one year but did not graduate. 

Adamson’s father, Lawrence, was admitted to the MBA program at Harvard University but declined to attend, Adamson says, “because he wanted to marry my mother.”

They lived in Waxahachie, and Adamson was born there. His parents were involved in homecomings over many years, so he grew up with Trinity and knew many of the professors. His father even served on the Board of Trustees. 

“It was just assumed that that was what I was going to do,” he says. “It was where I wanted to go to college.”

At Trinity, Adamson met his future wife, Cecile. They both graduated in 1954 with majors in biology.

“I graduated in three years,” he says. “That was the dumbest thing I ever did. Those years were just wonderful. Why in the world I ran through it so quickly, I don’t know. But anyway, that’s the way it goes.”

Larry’s mother majored in music at Trinity and was a fine singer who also played the piano. Blessed with his mother’s and grandmother Pearl’s musical genes, Adamson says, “I am a singer.” He also plays the bass guitar, piano, trumpet and other brass instruments. “Left to my own devices, most likely I would have majored in music, but my family assumed that I would be a physician,” he says.

He attended medical school but was forced to leave due to medical complications. Instead, he attended the University of Houston and earned a master’s degree in biology.

Interested in working at a Presbyterian Church-related mission school, Adamson found a position at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., teaching biology and serving as dean of students.

“I found my niche. I loved teaching biology,” he says. “The student evaluations let me know I was making a difference.”

Three years ago, he returned to campus to help celebrate the Class of 1965’s 50th reunion. Adamson was greeted by former students whose lives he had changed. “You don’t have any idea of how many people perceive you. It was a real ego trip for me,” he says.

The Adamsons moved to San Antonio in 1970. Trinity President James Laurie offered him a position in student affairs, “but I wasn’t interested in doing that,” he says. He wasn’t considered for a teaching position because “I don’t have a doctorate and never felt the need to do that because of family responsibilities.”

Instead, he joined the faculty of San Antonio College, where he taught biology before he transferred to St. Phillip’s College and taught human anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and general biology.

The Adamsons had four children, but only one son, Stuart ’85, attended Trinity. Cecile Adamson, Larry’s wife, died in 2008.

He has 13 grandchildren, but only Carolyn Gump ’02 attended Trinity.

The musical genes continued in Adamson’s two sons. His younger son, Stuart, and his wife, Hilary, are singers and songwriters with a group called "The Flyin' A's," named after the cattle brand belonging to Larry Adamson’s father. The group is in Austin and in the summer for the last three years had European and Rocky Mountain tours. They have a number of CDs and are in the process of putting together another one, Adamson says. His older son, Tod, a retired lawyer, is also a singer and songwriter. 

Larry Adamson’s musical interest gained an outlet when he and Trinity faculty members William Kurtin, John A. Burke, Lyn Belisle Kurtin, and others formed the Medina Mud Band and performed progressive country music. Kurtin played the guitar and was lead singer, Burke was on drums, Belisle Kurtin played guitar and sang, and Adamson was on bass guitar. Other members played a harmonica, keyboard, fiddle, and lead guitar.

The group eventually disbanded when age became an impediment to hauling equipment around. 

Today, Adamson plays in nursing homes with a group called Scentamental Journey, combining the aromas of essential oils with music of the 1940s and ’50s. Belisle Kurtin is an aromatherapist. Kurtin still sings and plays guitar, Belisle Kurtin sings, Dave Williams plays the harmonica, and Adamson is on bass guitar. 

As a biology major, Adamson is impressed with the caliber of facilities and students at Trinity, especially the Center for the Sciences and Innovation. He recognizes that students get the opportunity to do advanced research, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and speak at national conferences. “In most institutions, undergraduates don’t get to do that kind of thing,” he says.

“Trinity is doing wonders with undergraduate students,” he says. “They’re getting experience there, which will serve them very well when they continue their education.”

“Needless to say, Trinity University is very important to me,” Adamson says. He served on the National Alumni Board from 1987-1993.

Adamson is also excited about a new initiative to organize a reunion for classes graduating more than 50 years ago. Its first reunion was held in May 2018.

“I am very excited about the possible organization for we who have had 50 reunions and hope to be involved in getting other friends excited about being a part of this new group,” he says.

To recap his family’s legacy, Paxton and Kate Gillespie, his great-grandparents, were on the initial faculty. Alumni included Frederick Adamson and Pearl Gillespie, his paternal grandparents, late 1800s; William Henry Baker and Anna Louise Anderson Baker, his maternal grandparents; and F. Lawrence ’27 and Clarie Adamson ‘28, Larry Adamson’s parents; William Adamson ’24 and Tod F. Pazdral ‘28, Larry’s uncles; his aunts, Mary C. Bynum ’31, Lucie Mae Pazdral ’28 and Louise Noyes; his cousins Sue Youngs ’57 and Joan Pinkerton; his son Stuart ’85; Jay Tanner, and Carolyn Gump ’02, his granddaughter.

That makes 19 family members who are alumni, plus his great-grandparents, who have been involved with Trinity throughout its 150-year history.