By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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During the Depression, Boots Adams had crisscrossed the country carrying more than a million dollars worth of Phillips' stocks and bonds in small suitcases while locating properties, analyzing their potential and striking deals to drill for oil. A tall, handsome man, he married Blanche Keeler, the daughter of a respected town father whose grandmothers were full-blooded Cherokee Indians and whose brother eventually became head of the Cherokee Nation.
Next to the Phillips clan, the Adams family was the closest thing to royalty in Bartlesville. Today there is a building named after Boots Adams at the Phillips Petroleum complex, and one of the main arteries downtown is named Adams Boulevard.
Some older Bartlesville residents still remember the weekend in 1965 when the entire town shut down to celebrate Boots Adams' 66th birthday (coinciding with the Phillips 66 trademark). There was a parade with a fleet of floats featuring various stages in Boots' life, air shows, toys for children and free movies at the local theater. Even Dwight Eisenhower, Boots' golfing buddy, showed up.
In a commemorative booklet published by Phillips, Boots Adams is shown surrounded by his second wife and family, a Waspish clan of men in dark suits and women in the tasteful Jackie Kennedy sheaths popular at the time. Over to the right in the photo is Bud's sister Mary Louise, and then Bud himself, looking characteristically awkward and out-of-place and clad in an ill-fitting plaid jacket and string tie.
A small, blurry photo on another page shows Bud's only son, Kenneth Stanley Adams III, who was about eight at the time, standing on a float in a pair of red cowboy boots. "Young Kenneth S. Adams III depicts grandfather wearing red boots that promoted lifelong nickname," says the photo caption.
Later, after 29-year-old Ken Adams had killed himself while his father was negotiating to move the Oilers to Jacksonville, family friends would say the troubled young man always had a difficult time walking in the shoes of his famous namesakes.
By all accounts, Bud Adams was well-liked, if envied, while growing up in Bartlesville. He is remembered as one of the only teenagers in town who had a car during the Depression. He left town for high school at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, an expensive prep school popular with the offspring of wealthy families in Texas and the Midwest.
At Culver, Adams was a "lad few girls could resist," at least according to his class yearbook.
At the start of World War II, Adams entered the University of Kansas, where he studied in the school of engineering and played halfback on the football team. He never graduated, leaving school to join the Navy, but it was at Kansas that he met his future wife, Nancy.
Adams was fresh out of the service in 1946 when he decided to make Houston his home. That was also the year he married Nancy, and the year his father became engaged to his second wife.
The senior Adams would raise a second family of five children at the same time Bud was raising his brood of three. One of Boots Adams' sons by his second marriage would also be named Kenneth.
If the vanity book The Boots Adams Story is any indication, the elder Adams clearly favored his second family over his first. The book is filled with photos of his second wife and five children. Blanche Adams is never mentioned; there are two small pictures of Bud and Mary Louise.
Boots Adams was always a controversial figure at Phillips. Some considered him a folk hero of sorts, a Horatio Alger figure who built the company into an industry giant. Critics say he was a rapacious man with a lust for wealth and power. A well-circulated story in Bartlesville, one that is repeated in Oil Man, a 1988 book by Michael Wallis on the history of Phillips, is that Boots Adams managed to take all the oil-rich ancestral Indian lands belonging to Blanche when he divorced her. "I always knew he could be a mean and vicious son of a bitch ...," a Bartlesville resident supposedly close to the Adams was quoted as saying in the Wallis book.
Spencer Murchison, who was president of Adams Resources and Energy from 1976-84 and claims to know Bud Adams better than anyone in Houston, remembers that even in his seventies, Boots Adams projected an aura of power when he walked into a room.
"When Bud Adams was 50 years old, he was still addressing his father as yes, sir, and no, sir," says Murchison. "I did, too."
According to another family friend, Boots Adams was a master of the putdown. The friend tells how Bud was once talking to Boots about the Oilers. Bud asked his father if he had seen the most recent game. Boots, a Cowboy fan, replied, "Yeah, they really beat the Giants, didn't they?"
"No, I mean our game, Dad," said Bud.
"Oh, did y'all play this weekend?" said Boots.
It's not as if Boots Adams ignored his first family. In fact, he almost lost his job for helping set his son up in Houston, according to the Wallis book. In addition to helping Bud establish a Houston company, a distributorship for Phillips Petroleum products, Boots also permitted some Phillips workers from Bartlesville to go to Houston to help his son in the venture, which Bud named Adams Oil Company.