William H. Adkins II, a retired judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and former Easton resident, died of cancer Monday at his home in Williamstown, Mass. He was 77.
Judge Adkins was born into a family of lawyers and judges and had ties to the Eastern Shore going back generations. He was a well-known civil rights activist and judicial reform expert long before being named to the state's highest court in 1986.
Born in New York City, he was the son of Leonard Dawson Adkins, a lawyer who headed a Manhattan law firm, and Grace R. Adkins.
His grandfather, William H. Adkins, was a judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals from 1919 to 1935.
Raised in Wilson Point, Conn., he graduated from the Albany Academy in New York state in 1943, and enlisted in the Army.
He served as an infantryman in the Italian campaign, and after the war remained active in the Army and Air Force Reserve.
Judge Adkins received a bachelor's degree in English and graduated cum laude from Williams College in Williamstown. He received his law degree in 1952 from Harvard Law School, and that year was admitted to the Maryland bar and moved to Easton, where he began a 20-year practice.
During those years, he served as chairman of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was named first chairman of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations by Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1969.
Judge Adkins was described in a 1970 profile in The Sun as being "among the leading advocates of civil rights and liberalism on Maryland's traditionally conservative Eastern Shore."
In his work with the Commission on Human Relations, he was the chief architect of the Code of Fair Practice, which strengthened efforts to prevent racial and sexual discrimination by state agencies, by private businesses that had contracts with the state, and by county and city businesses receiving state aid.
From 1970 to 1973, he was director of the 25-member Commission to Revise the Annotated Code of Maryland, overseeing its first major overhaul since 1888.
He was named state court administrator in 1973, heading an office that gathers statistical information and other data on the operation of Maryland's courts and advises the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.
In 1982, Gov. Harry R. Hughes named him to fill a vacancy on the Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court, calling him "an experienced attorney with a universal reputation as one of the best legal minds in Maryland."
Four years later, Mr. Hughes elevated Judge Adkins to the Court of Appeals, where he remained until retirement in 1990.
"He brought a tremendous amount of administrative knowledge to the bench, and he knew how [the courts] should operate," said Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner. "He also had a real feel for people and equality. And he brought that dimension out in many of his decisions. He was a very fine judge."
Judge Adkins was known for his low-key demeanor.
"He was not a shouter, and knew how to make a point quite forcibly," Judge Wilner said. "He was, however, somewhat impatient with the long delays in the Court of Appeals decisions. He took exception to that, feeling that justice delayed is justice denied."
Theodore G. Bloom, a retired judge of the Court of Special Appeals, recalled their days together where they quietly discussed their cases.
"He was of immeasurable help to me," said Judge Bloom. "We would bat around ideas, talk it out, and it helped modulate our thoughts. He was one of the kindest and gentlest individuals I have ever knew in a court of top-notch people."
Both judges also shared a love of the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and often attended performances in Washington together.
After leaving the bench, Judge Adkins moved to Williamstown, where he became immersed in civic affairs. He also took classes at Williams.
He liked hiking, playing bagpipes and listening to Scottish music. He completed a family memoir, and read aloud the 19th-century novels of Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens.
Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.
Judge Adkins is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Janice Sharp; three sons, District Court Judge William H. Adkins III of Oxford, Alden S. Adkins of Falls Church, Va., and Leonard D. Adkins III of Martigny, Switzerland; a daughter, Elizabeth A. Neumann of Milton, Mass.; a brother, Leonard D. Adkins Jr. of Woodstock, Vt.; two sisters, Mary Emmaline A. Harris of Clearwater, Fla., and Grace A. Duren of Ann Arbor, Mich.; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson.