Mitchell Lash Adams, a devoted and beloved husband, brother, uncle, cousin, son, friend, and philanthropist died at home on Beacon Hill on July 18, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was 75 years old.
Born in the middle of the American Century, Mitchell lived an American life - traversing an improbable arc from scion of one the Country's oldest and most distinguished political and medical families to a passionate and dedicated advocate for LGBTQ rights, access to healthcare, and recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction.
Mitchell was born on September 23, 1944 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Sam and Sibyl Adams. Mitchell's family lived in the South and Midwest before moving back to Massachusetts, home to the Adams family for almost four hundred years. Like his cousins John (and John's son John Quincy) and Samuel Adams, Mitchell was a direct descendent of Henry Adams, who arrived in America in 1632.
Always a hard worker and overachiever, Mitchell earned his Eagle as a boy scout in the summer of 1958 when he was only 13. He graduated high school from Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio before matriculating at Harvard College where he majored in Art History. While at Harvard, Mitchell was a member of The Fly Club and also served as the President of the Hasty Pudding Club. Mitchell graduated cum laude with an AB in 1966. While Mitchell completed his formal education with a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard in 1969, he loved learning and spent a lifetime exploring subjects of interest, including World War II, the Roosevelts, the American Civil War, ship building, physics, and the arts, to name a few.
Mitchell had a varied and distinguished career in banking, healthcare, and public service. He served as a Dean for Finance and Business at the Harvard Medical School and held a similar position at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His favorite position, however, was serving as the Commissioner of Revenue for the Weld Administration from 1991-1998. During his tenure, Mitchell pioneered new and innovative programs to save taxpayers' money and to help the citizens of Massachusetts. He was most proud of his efforts to use the resources of the Department of Revenue to collect overdue child support payments from delinquent parents. His work made Massachusetts a national model for this work.
When Mitchell retired, he was serving as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), an organization that served as a catalyst for invigorating the Commonwealth's innovative economy. The MTC and Mitchell's role were a perfect fit for his unquenchable curiosity, creativity, and energy. Among his many accomplishments was leading Massachusetts's effort to develop and transition to digital health records to reduce the cost of healthcare while improving the quality of care.
In 1980 Mitchell met the love of his life, Kevin Smith, at the Church of the Advent in Boston. He and Kevin were together for 24 years when, on June 22, 2004, they became one of the first gay couples in the United States to marry legally. Mitchell and Kevin built a life together focused on family and service. They provided a home to Mitchell's father Sam for eight years and to Kevin's mother Esther for over 30 years. Their home in Dedham was the gathering place for their extended family until Kevin's tragic death in 2014.
In 1992 Mitchell and Kevin came out publicly in an article in the Boston Globe. At the time, both were commissioners in the Weld Administration. Their coming out as a gay couple was as historic as it was brave, causing Barney Frank to observe at the time that they were the country's only openly gay couple in high public office.
Mitchell and Kevin were tireless and generous advocates for the LGBTQ community, helping to support the AIDS Action Committee during the early days of the AIDS crisis and to create the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. They also provided financial support and strategic guidance for the Marriage Equality movement. Mitchell further served as co-chair of the committee of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, which raised funds to endow the country's first professorship in gay and lesbian studies (F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality). In 2012, Mitchell and Kevin were honored by the Greater Boston Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG) with a Lifetime of Service Award for their leadership.
Mitchell was involved with many civic and community organizations, including serving as a Trustee for both the Boston Athenaeum and the Handel and Haydn Society (H+H). Mitchell held the position of Chairmen for H+H from 1986-1991. In 2018 Mitchell combined his love of art history with his passion for Handel's Messiah and commissioned a multi-media project to use visual art to accompany the oratorio. The Society is working on completing the project for a future performance, which will be dedicated in Mitchell's memory.
Mitchell loved Harvard and was honored to serve the University in many capacities, including as a Member of the Board of Overseers from 2005-2011 and as the Board's Vice Chairman from 2010-2011.
Mitchell was also passionate about healthcare and considered access to it a human right. He devoted much of his time and resources to organizations that were working to solve some of the most challenging aspects of healthcare delivery. He did not accept the limitations of binary solutions and worked to make both our current system more effective while simultaneously supporting efforts to reimagine what was possible. To this end, he served as a Trustee for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and for Partners in Health (PIH). He personally led several trips to PIH facilities in Haiti and Rwanda.
With his death, it can be publicly revealed that Mitchell was a devoted and active member of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, maintaining continuous sobriety since January 1, 1988. During his lifetime, Mitchell was open about being an alcoholic in the hope that his candor would be beneficial to others, alcoholic or not. Mitchell's commitment to recovery and generosity of spirit directly helped dozens of people and the ripple effect of his sobriety has touched scores more all across the United States.
Mitchell was the consummate optimist – he believed in the best in people and that the best was yet to come. He used to like to say, "where there is life, there is hope." Because of Mitchell's extraordinary generous life, his hope lives on in the lives of those lucky enough to have known and loved him.
Mitchell was predeceased by his beloved husband Kevin, his brother Zabdiel (Zab), and his parents Samuel and Sibyl. He is survived by his Smith in-laws, Bole and Mehaffy cousins, and dear friends whom he loved like family.
Information about a memorial service will be forthcoming. If you would like to remember Mitchell with a gift, the family requests that donations be sent to Partners in Health at https://secure.pih.org/a/donate.