0630 - Dan Adams head shotDan Adams, who oversaw a family foundation that blossomed into one of the nation’s leading funders of stroke research, has died. He was 75.

Adams died Tuesday accompanied by his loved ones at an assisted living facility near his home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He recently had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

Although his professional specialty was corporate branding, Adams became a leader in the fight against stroke through his involvement in the Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation. The Bugher Foundation has funded over $36 million in heart and stroke studies overseen by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. This foundation is the most generous research donor in the AHA’s history.

The Adams family has been intimately involved in the foundation since its inception. Dan’s father, Nelson Adams, helped start the Bugher Foundation, and Dan’s sons, Bryan and Bruce, are among the trustees. Interestingly, the Adamses are not related to the namesake benefactors, nor are they connected to cardiovascular disease, except for their devotion through this foundation.

The current Bugher-funded project involves teams of researchers at UCLA, the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Miami. They are in the second of four years of studying a broad range of issues – including stroke in children, rehabilitation and recovery, neuropsychology and cognition – and are working together in a collaborative format championed by Adams.

“Dan meant so much to our organization,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the AHA/ASA. “As an individual leader, he helped shape the future of the AHA in research, as a trustee of the Bugher Foundation he was inspirational to so many others and as a friend he was always gracious and compassionate. His presence and input will be greatly missed.”

Adams blended his professional expertise and the stroke knowledge he gained through his Bugher work to help the AHA/ASA develop branding and focus for stroke campaigns. In fact, he was the impetus for the organization’s first Ad Council campaign for stroke. Adams also enjoyed his involvement with his local AHA division.

“Much was accomplished specifically because of Dan’s creativity and enthusiasm,” said Rose Marie Robertson, Chief Science & Medical Officer of the AHA/ASA. “He had a profound impact on the lives of so many, from the investigators whose careers began or were strengthened as they pursued the research funded by the Bugher Foundation to the many patients whose lives will be improved by the results of that research. For those of us at the AHA/ASA who knew him over many years, it was a great privilege and pleasure to be his colleague and friend.”

While Adams was growing up, his father was a prominent attorney in New York. Among his clients was Frederick McLean Bugher, Jr., son of Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher. Upon their death in 1961, Nelson Adams helped their son establish the foundation.

The original charter aimed at funding heart disease studies in the nation’s capital because both of Frederick’s parents died of heart disease in Washington, D.C. When Frederick died – also of heart disease – he left the majority of his fortune (nearly $20 million) to the foundation. With expanded resources, the foundation’s trustees, including Nelson Adams, decided to expand their scope. They also enlisted the help of the AHA, the nation’s oldest and largest cardiovascular health organization.

Dan Adams, meanwhile, graduated from Colgate, where he was a member of The Colgate 13, an all-male a capella singing group. Music meant so much to him that he formed a two-man folk band after college.

“We sang the real folk ballads and work songs,” Adams said. “You’d never catch us singing stuff like, `Puff, The Magic Dragon.’”

Adams then moved into advertising. In 1979, he launched The Daniel Adams Company, which specialized in training and development. Adams developed a niche as a branding guru, serving clients across the country and around the globe.

As the Bugher Foundation’s work with the AHA was taking off, Dan Adams joined his dad as a trustee, as did Gayllis Ward, daughter of the foundation’s longtime financial manager, Bob Robinson. By 1996, the end of the Bugher Foundation’s second funded research project with the AHA, the two second-generation trustees became the organization’s primary stewards. The third generation (Dan’s sons) joined the group soon after, with Bryan becoming a trustee in 2002 and Bruce in 2005.

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Bugher Foundation trustees; from left, Bryan Adams, Bruce Adams, Gayllis Ward, Dan Adams

Early in Dan Adams’ tenure, he asked about the specifics of the group’s charter to ensure it was being followed.

“My dad and Bob said, `Cardiovascular research,’” Dan Adams said. “I said, `But what kind of things?’ They looked blankly at each other. I said, `Given the success of Bugher 1, it seems to me we are positioned to do seminal projects that are innovative and have difficulty getting funded. We don’t answer to anyone, so we can take more risks.’ And they bought into that. That’s become our operating philosophy.”

The first Bugher-funded project were based in university laboratories (called “centers”) and required the involvement of students (“fellows”). The works all focused on molecular biology, which was all the rage in the mid-1980s.

When it was time to fund a second project, AHA officials encouraged the Bugher trustees to invest in stroke research, where it was thought they could make more of a difference. Adams and his counterparts loved the idea of targeting the world’s No. 2 killer.

“I remember because it was brilliant: a spectrum of ways stroke needed to be engaged,” he said.

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For the third joint project, it was quickly decided that the research would combine the best elements of what had become known as Bugher 1 and Bugher 2: using centers and fellows, and having them focus on stroke.

A primary focus was on stroke prevention. This included a look at the role of genetics. And, at Adams’ urging, there was one more caveat, a time-tested business principle that had yet to gain traction in the world of medical science: cross-institutional collaboration.

Simply put, Adams wanted the Bugher Centers to work together, sharing everything from samples to ideas.

“It just made so much sense from all of the rest of my life,” Adams said.

0630 - Dan Adams at ISC

This played out a bit like a forced marriage, as the three university labs (California-Davis/San Francisco, Duke and Harvard) were chosen separately and told to work as a team.

Although things were still being smoothed out three years into the four-year study, even the biggest skeptic in the group (Dr. Frank Sharp, director of the UC-Davis center) ended up supporting collaboration, writing in his wrap-up report that it “was a curse in the beginning and a blessing by the end.”

“Let’s put it this way: It was much better than if we’d toiled on our own,” he said in a subsequent interview. “It brought depth and breadth to each group.”

The first three Bugher projects ranged from $8.4 million to $9.4 million. But, for Bugher 4, the trustees upped the ante to $9.65 million. They also stuck with what they believed in: centers and fellows, collaboration and stroke research.

Formally known as the American Stroke Association-Bugher Centers of Excellence in Stroke Collaborative Research, it focuses on recovery, resilience and prevention includes psychology, psychiatry and neuropsychology. This met Adams’ oft-stated goal of “getting the mind into the mix.”

“Through his compassionate leadership of the Bugher Foundation, Dan Adams and his family have supported stroke research in this country like no one else,” said Ralph Sacco, a past president of the AHA/ASA who is Chairman of Neurology at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, and Director of the school’s center in the current Bugher research project. “There are so many fellows, faculty, researchers and patients who are indebted to Dan and his family for their generosity and guidance of the Bugher Foundation in improving outcomes for patients with stroke and heart disease. I am incredibly grateful to have known and worked with Dan and I know his legacy will continue.”

Added Dr. James Weyhenmeyer, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Georgia State University, and leader of the Oversight Advisory Group for both the current and previous Bugher-funded research projects: “Dan’s vision, leadership and friendship have been such an inspiration to me. He has done so much for so many through his generosity.”

With nearly 30 years of funded research, the Bugher alumni club includes more than 200 researchers, many of whom have become leaders in the field. Perhaps the most prominent is Andrew Marks, creator of the first drug-eluting stent approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2003.

Marks was not planning on a life in medical research until he received a Bugher 1 grant after getting his M.D. from Harvard. While his lifesaving discovery was not a direct result of that grant, his Bugher-related work directly put him on the path that resulted in that breakthrough.

“We’ve found that a lot of them (fellows) stayed in research – they found that they liked it,” Adams said. “We’re very pleased with that.”

Part of the reason the Bugher Foundation played such a prominent role in Adams’ life was its role as a bridge between generations: He got to work with his father, then with his sons.

Dan Adams - red nose

About five years ago, Adams realized that all the satisfaction he’s derived from his involvement in the foundation traced back to his dad’s client, Fred Bugher. He also realized that he didn’t have so much as a picture of him. A hunt ensued, one that included a trip to the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. Then in 2012, a search of a genealogy website produced a grainy picture from a passport application.

In a 2013 Wall Street Journal article headlined, “Giving With Heart,” Adams said his search of the photograph was fueled by a desire “to give him the due that we can for having the foresight and sense of generosity to set this fund up.”

Survivors include his wife, Suzanne, sons Bryan and Bruce, Bruce’s wife, Lee, and Bruce and Lee’s daughters, Margaret and Lucy. He was preceded in death by another son, Danny.

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Adams with his wife, Suzanne, and granddaughter, Margaret.

A joyful, musical memorial service will be held later in the summer. The date and location will be posted on his memorial Facebook page. A service will also be held in Barneveld, New York, at St. David’s Episcopal Church on July 25 at 11 a.m.

Condolences can be sent to the family via Rosemary Corey at the AHA. The mailing address is 7272 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, TX, 75231.