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Ruthie Jones, another longtime friend, says Ken's learning disability left him feeling like a failure.
"Bud had no idea he was depressed," says Jones.
Characteristically, Adams kept his feelings to himself, never using the suicide to gain public sympathy. Apparently, he and his wife don't even talk about it to longtime friends. Such a display of emotion is not their style.
Clothier Isabel Gerhart says she once mentioned to Nancy Adams that she had some wonderful old film of Ken Adams a young boy. But Ken's mother seemed to freeze up at the possibility of viewing the film, closing out all discussion by saying, "Oh, really?"
During his Culver talk on the entrepreneurial spirit, Bud Adams' extreme discomfort in discussing personal matters was evident after he was asked whether his success had affected his home life.
He replied no, explaining: "I'm still married. I got married in 1946. That's a pretty good record. My children ... my children ... ah, ah, ah .... They're not all sticking with one spouse." Then he started to ramble, telling his audience that he's a workaholic who stays in the office until 7:30 at night, but adding: "It (success) really hasn't changed my ah, ah .... I like to work. Keeps our lifestyle, your family style kind of building in the same trend."
Some of those who've dealt with Adams behind closed doors say he's far more adept and personable on a one-to-one basis than he is before groups or the media.
"He is a man not given to small talk," says Bob Lanier, who's probably had one of the more famous and public of the many run-ins Adams has had with other Houstonians over the years.
"His image," adds Lanier, "is of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun. But he is not puffed up or proud."
Former Oiler Bob Talamini recalls trying to see Adams after Talamini was traded to the New York Jets in 1968. He wasn't successful, and chalked it off to Adams' impersonal style. Now a vice president at the local Smith Barney office, Talamini says if he ran into his former boss in the Galleria, they might pass a few moments of awkward talk, and Bud Adams would move on.
"What he needs is a three-week course at a charm school," says Al Jamison, another former Oiler.
One common perception is that Adams simply hasn't given anything back to Houston in return for all the city's given him. But that's not an entirely fair characterization. While it is true that Adams is not on the disease ball circuit, he does have a few pet charities, including the 100 Club for the families of slain police officers and the Ronald McDonald House, a home for children with cancer who are being treated at the Medical Center. The Ronald McDonald House's Naomi Scott calls Adams a "generous contributor" who last year purchased a children's quilt in an charity auction for $25,000.
And then there is Culver, to which Adams donated his substantial collection of Old West and Indian art a few years ago to mark the school's 100th anniversary. (Adams is an avid collector, and the paintings and sculptures sprinkled through his office at Adams Petroleum Center were the subject of a 1994 story in Forbes magazine, which featured one of the few interviews Adams has granted to the media over the years.)
Each spring Adams hosts a barbecue for about 150 Culver alums and their families at his Waller ranch. He's known to stroll around the event in flowered Hawaiian shorts and shirt holding hands with his wife. He also sends out regular newsletters to Culver alumni in the Houston area. "He's in 80 percent of the photographs, and he looks the same in everyone -- like a cardboard cutout," says one fellow alumnus. "It's almost as if he's been forced into being a public figure, and he's not comfortable with it."
The friends of Bud -- and he does have them -- argue that the public has never known what a generous and loyal guy he truly is. Some of them have been FOBs for four decades. He's had the same wife for 50 years. And despite the many changes on the front lines of the Oilers -- the team has had 15 head coaches in its 36-year history, while the Cowboys have had three in the same time -- many other employees at Adams' companies have been with him for 30 years or more. In the '80s bust, Adams was one of the few oil company CEOs who actually tried to retain employees, offering them a cut in pay instead of laying them off, notes Sam Fletcher, a reporter with Oil Daily who's followed Adams' oil business over the years.
And while Adams' disputes with various Oilers are legendary, there are some former players and coaches who remain grateful to Adams for favors he's done them. Joe Spencer, a former Oilers assistant coach, says Adams may have saved his son's life in 1965, when Spencer's son was seriously injured playing football at Tulane. The boy was growing worse in a New Orleans hospital, so Spencer turned to Adams, who dispatched his private plane and pilot to bring Spencer's son to the Texas Medical Center.