Thurston R. “Bud” Adams Jr., president of Belair Road Supply Co., died Monday from an inflammatory disease, dermatomyositis, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The longtime Lutherville resident was 73.
“Bud was a humble man who would do anything for you,” said Sherman O. Canapp, a branch manager and Abingdon resident who has worked for Belair Supply for 25 years. “He was a kind, generous man who worked beside you. He knew the business inside and out.”
Robbie Robinson of Catonsville, vice president of operations, said Mr. Adams “did a lot of business with just a handshake. Bud was the kind of guy who started out as a boss and then became a friend and then best friend.”
Thurston Ray Adams Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised on Charles Street in Guilford. He was the son of Dr. Thurston R. “Turk” Adams, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief consulting surgeon of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and its successor Chessie System, and Ruth Markley Adams, a homemaker and socialite.
After graduating from the Gilman School in 1962, Mr. Adams enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played attack on its lacrosse team. The sport had returned in 1964 after being disbanded there in 1954.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1966 in business, Mr. Adams worked for the Jefferson Chemical Co. in Massachusetts in sales, then returned to Baltimore in 1970 when he took over as owner of the the Belair Supply Co.
The business had been established in 1917 as a feed, pipe-supply and hardware store on Belair Road by Mr. Adams’ maternal grandfather, George Edward Markley.
Mr. Adams began working in the business with his grandfather when he was 12, stocking shelves.
“I would weigh out a pound or two of nails or a pound of cement dye from large bins,” Mr. Adams wrote in a 100th-anniversary company history. “I would be covered in dye when I returned home to my mother.”
Following his grandfather’s death in 1963, family members decided to sell the business, and in 1970 Mr. Adams purchased it. He was named company president in 1976.
“I decided to take the opportunity to run a business on my own,” Mr. Adams told The Baltimore Sun in an interview earlier this year.
Mr. Adams expanded the business from a single store on Belair Road to five branches: Rosedale, Westminster, White Plains in Charles County, Frankford, Del., and Milton, Del. It became the largest independent water, sewer and storm drain distributor in Maryland.
In 1990 the company acquired Pen Mar Co., a Northwest Baltimore-based distributor of brick and masonry products to the commercial building trade. Mr. Adams added new products to the company’s line such as pavers and other “hardscaping” products, industrial tools and fittings.
“Bud’s products are all over the city and counties,” Mr. Robinson said. “When you go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, the Inner Harbor or the Johns Hopkins campus, you’re walking on our pavers.”
“He was always willing to listen and try new things — even though he hated change,” said Jeffrey H. Wieler, a company vice president who lives in Middle River.
“You could sit down and talk with him about what was best for the company. He was a trusted confidant. His door was always open,” said Mr. Wieler, who has been with the company for 28 years.
“This is a family-owned business,” Mr. Wieler said. “If you got sick, Bud would say, ‘Stay home, we’re going to pay you’ or if you had to leave early because you had to do something for your kids, he’d say, ‘Go ahead.’ ’’
“If you were sick, he was there. If you had a death in the family, Bud was there,” Mr. Robinson said.
Mr. Adams had a reputation for taking a chance on people who he thought had potential.
“He hired me right out of college,” said Mr. Robinson. “I was this stupid college kid who had absolutely no experience in sales, so he hired this dumb kid from Irvington and I’m still here 33 years later.”
“I can’t tell you how many [customers] stayed in business because of Bud. If they got behind, he’d extend them extra terms and didn’t charge them additional financial charges,” Mr. Robinson said. “If they asked him for an additional 30 days, he’d say ‘OK,’ and sometimes he just wrote off a bad debt.”
“You talk with your customers,” Mr. Adams said in The Sun interview. “If they’re looking for something, we’ll try to get it for them.They come to us for our knowledge.”
“Bud was honest, trustworthy and a pleasure to do business with,” George Donald, owner of Donald Excavating Co. Inc. in Rosedale, wrote in an email. “He was a good person and will be missed.”
Mr. Adams was a former president of the Masonry Institute of Maryland. He was also a member of the board of Associated Building Contractors, a member of the Building Congress and Exchange and an associate member of the Association of Utility Contractors.
He had not retired at his death.
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“He lived for the company and loved the company,” said his daughter, Stephanie Adams Germano of Reisterstown, who is now Belair Supply’s president.
Mr. Adams enjoyed playing golf and tennis at the Baltimore Country Club, where he was a member. He also liked taking European cruises and spending time at a vacation home in The Villages, Fla.
“He loved racing cars in Florida and he loved the speed of them,” Mr. Canapp said.
A wine connoisseur who favored Australian wines, Mr. Adams was a member of the International Wine & Food Society and a member of the Royal Order of Jesters. He was a fan of University of Maryland and University of North Carolina sports.
Mr. Adams was a lifelong member of Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St., Guilford, where a memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Adams is survived by his wife of 27 years, the former Carol Wagner; a son, Edward Markley Adams of LaPlata; a brother, Gordon Adams of Jacksonville, Fla.; a sister, June Salaun, also of Jacksonville; and a granddaughter.