Jerry Adams, budget adviser to 10 Tennessee governors, dies

Longtime former Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams, who served under 10 Tennessee governors, has died of an apparent heart attack.

Jerry Adams (handout photo)

Adams was hired in 1962 by Harlan Mathews, who was finance commissioner in Gov. Buford Ellington’s administration. He was named deputy commissioner during Ellington’s second term in 1967, and Gov. Winfield Dunn appointed him commissioner for the final months of his term after Ted Welch left government. Adams was acting commissioner for about six weeks under Gov. Ray Blanton, and then settled back into being deputy commissioner under Govs. Lamar Alexander, Ned McWherter, Don Sundquist, and Phil Bredesen.

After officially retiring from state government, Adams remained a consultant on budget matters under Gov. Bill Haslam and Bill Lee.

“In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement,” Bredesen said in a statement. “A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked.”

Alexander called Adams “the consummate professional as a state employee.”

“Everyone trusted and respected him,” he said. “It was my privilege to know and work with him.”

The Tennessee Journal recounted this incident about Adams in 2005:

About 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams left his office on the first floor of the Capitol to head home. He took the elevator to the ground floor, where the only exit that can be used on weekends is located. The elevator reached the floor but wouldn’t open. The phone didn’t work. An alarm did, but there was no one in the building to hear it. About 4 a.m. Monday a worker entered the Capitol, and Adams was able to get his attention. By 4:30 the door was open, and he walked out to find three Nashville firefighters. After his 13-hour ordeal, Adams went home and slept. But he was back at work at 9 a.m.

A visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the West Harpeth Funeral Home in Nashville.

Here’s the full statement from Bredesen:

Jerry Adams devoted his professional life to making Tennessee’s government be its best, and he was extraordinarily successful.

In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement. A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked. Legislators from both parties held him in such high regard that his briefings gave them the comfort they needed to take some tough actions that spring.

I loved to work with him. He was a problem-solver, completely honest and without guile, earnest, smart, deeply knowledgeable. He worked hard, had a sense of humor, was completely non-partisan. I would have been a different and inferior Governor without him and I suspect many of my predecessors from Frank Clement on could say the same. When I heard of his death, it was a bittersweet moment: Sadness at his passing, but profound respect and admiration as he wrapped-up a long, constructive, well-lived life.

3 Responses to Jerry Adams, budget adviser to 10 Tennessee governors, dies

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  • Tom Humphrey
    Tom Humphrey says:

    Bredesen and Alexander speak with bipartisan truth about Jerry Adams, a great gentleman and exemplary public servant with extraordinary knowledge of Tennessee’s state government finances — every cubbyhole, doodad tax and the political ramifications of each one (though, absolutely and utterly non-partisan). And he was willing to take the time to patently explain stuff in considerable detail to ignorant reporters, myself included, and display a sense of humor while doing so. A remarkable man, who stopped many stupid ideas by simply reciting a few facts and a bit of history in mild-mannered fashion to legislators and governors.

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    Bill Bradley, retired director of Tenn. Budget Office says:

    Jerry Adams was one of the three most important appointed officials in Tennessee state government in the last 60 years. And a fine man.

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