Adam Jones-Kelley lived a glorious life.
I was witness to the whole arc of that life. I was the first person to see his face, the first person to speak his name when I said, “Hello, Adam. Welcome to the world.”
People who have known him for the past few decades know only a part of that story, the dazzling part. Only my oldest friends know how difficult was the road Adam traveled to bring himself to the larger-than-life man he became. Only my oldest friends know that Adam suffered from severe ADHD. It was a struggle for him to grow up, a struggle even to survive. But survive he did.
He could not really function in school. It may come as a surprise to his friends and admirers all over the world to learn that Adam never finished high school. Yet, for most of his life, you rarely saw him without a book in his hand. Adam was the definition of the autodidact. He taught himself. He taught himself to speak flawless English. He taught himself to write well. He taught himself history. He taught himself economic development and international relations. I am a university professor and an intellectual snob, and I can attest that Adam Jones-Kelley was one of the most educated men I ever met.
Certainly, he was one of the most vibrant. Conversation with Adam was never dull. He was never even slightly interested in talking about himself. Rather, he was fascinated with people and their ideas. He was the only person I knew with whom I could have a conversation about the Crimean Tatars, with whom I could debate over who was the greatest of the Roman emperors, to whom I could give a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine as a Christmas present.
He was also the one with whom I could laugh the most. We always said of ourselves that we were two people trapped inside one sense of humor. If something was funny to Adam, he knew it would also make me laugh. And vice versa. Laughter is genetic in my family. I always laughed and laughed with my mother. I laughed and laughed with my son. My son laughed and laughed with his grandmother.
He brought his erudition and his wit to both his professional life and to his friends. In point of fact, many of his professional relations morphed into friendships. He had a network of friends that stretched to every corner of the world. Yes, he regularly dined with presidents and prime ministers (I remember once getting an irritated text from him complaining that a certain princess royal had stood him up for lunch). But he was equally comfortable with friends who were just working stiffs.
Adam had an urge to do good. While he sometimes failed, the desire was always there. He was a flamboyant tipper because he worried that waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers and shoe-shine boys were not sufficiently rewarded for their work. He loved giving gifts at Christmas, much more than he loved receiving them. He and I had a decades-long dialogue on how capitalism could be a moral and ethical force in the world; he scorned the selfishness and greed he saw in many capitalists. He believed profoundly that the work he and his co-workers at Conway did had as its ultimate goal making the world a better place for ordinary people everywhere.
He lived exactly the life he wanted to live. An incandescent life, a flame that burned with hot brilliance. And burned out too soon.
So soon that I had to say words no father should ever have to say to his son. “Goodbye, Adam. That world I introduced to you such a brief few years ago will miss you so very much. Goodbye, my son. You were loved.”