Friends and family recall the charm and generosity of Dot Adams, the wife of the area’s most famous rancher
ST. LUCIE COUNTY – The City of Fort Pierce and the entire Southeastern Florida ranching community lost a piece of its heart and a good chunk of its old southern heritage with the passing of Dorothy "Dot" Snively Adams on May 4.
Mrs. Adams, 91, was the wife of iconic rancher Alto "Bud" Lee Adams Jr., who carved out his own unique niche in the Florida cattle industry with the successful creation of the Braford, a new breed of heat-resistant beef cattle. Aside from that fact, Mr. Adams, who died at 91 on Sept. 22, 2017, would have told anyone his other most amazing feat was to marry “the most beautiful girl at FSU”, which he did in 1949. While he was the son of Florida Supreme Court Judge Alto Adams Sr. who had originally purchased what would become the renowned Adams Ranch land in 1937 for $1.50 an acre, she was the daughter of Winter Haven citrus farmer Harvey B. Snively. Their paths crossed and permanently entwined in Tallahassee, where it was rumored he first caught sight of her tossing citrus from a parade float. After graduating from Florida State University, the couple relocated to the family ranch, where they eventually had three sons: Alton “Lee” Adams III, Michael Adams and Robert Adams. The latter says he doesn’t think his mother thought twice about exchanging her native Central Florida for St. Lucie County and seemed to adapt perfectly to the ranch lifestyle.
“She was always a happy person,” her youngest son said. “I can’t think of her struggling with anything. She always made everything look easy.”
Mr. Adams did say his mother never really learned to horseback ride, but even so, would bite the bullet and get in the saddle so the family could participate together in the annual Sandy Shoes Festival Cattlemen’s Parade. She was also an avid hunter, having grown up accompanying her father on hunting trips near Winter Haven.
“My mom enjoyed living on the ranch and was at home with the snakes and alligators,” Mr. Adams said. “She was not involved in the working of the cattle but always supported the family by making a good ranch home. And she did like to hunt wild turkeys.”
LeeAnn Simmons, the daughter of Mrs. Adams’ firstborn son Lee, said she has fond memories of her grandmother from a very young age.
“My first memory of her would probably be swimming in her pool or her teaching me to play the piano,” she said.
Now 36, Mrs. Simmons lives in Floral City but still works remotely on the conservation easements for Adams Ranch and in its Natural Beef Program. She always lived close to her grandparents until moving to Tallahassee to study at their alma mater in 2002 and subsequently marrying and resettling in Citrus County. She said her grandmother was passionate about family.
“One thing my grandmother loved to do was take us to Winter Haven to visit her relatives,” she explained. “She was always talking about them and went to visit whenever she could. She loved spending time with her granddaughters – she had five – and would take us shopping and to Winter Haven. Another thing we did together was organize her photos. She loved family photos, and we spent a lot of time looking through her old photos from college, her wedding and their trips.”
Mrs. Simmons said her grandmother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s while she was still in Tallahassee. She, along with her Uncle Robert, helped care for the matriarch of the family in her final days at home.
“Of course, it affected our relationship because she could not communicate the way she used to,” she explained. “However, she never stopped smiling at me – the same smile always.”
Ms. Simmons’ best memory of her grandparents together is reminiscent of the 2004 film, The Notebook, in which a husband tries relentlessly to reignite his wife’s memories of him through reading the story of their complicated romance.
“The fondest memory I have of my grandparents would have to be the way he wanted to care for her until he could no longer do it by himself,” she said. “His greatest concern his last years were who would take care of Dot if he were to pass before her.”
Mrs. Adam’s decades-old friend Betsy Yates agrees with Mrs. Simmons that even though her grandmother gradually lost the ability to communicate, some things about the iconic rancher’s wife never changed.
“She had her smile and her beautiful skin right up until the day she died,” she said. “And she had the most beautiful blue eyes.”
A retired Lawnwood Hospital nurse, Mrs. Yates, 74, said she first met Mrs. Adams when she married one of Mr. Adams’ hunting buddies Bill Yates.
“Bill would hunt with Bud and they would go to Mexico and hunt,” she explained. “Dot already had the boys, and she was very busy with that, and it wasn’t until the ’70s when I saw more of her. She was a beautiful, soft-spoken and kind lady. Her main focus was her marriage, her family and the community, and she was involved with many organizations.”
Mrs. Yates said she got to know Mrs. Adams even better after the latter’s boys had grown and she began volunteering for different entities, including the Lawnwood Hospital Auxiliary, whose members were more commonly known as the Pink Ladies. They both served together on the Philanthropic Education Organization, which was devoted to providing financial assistance and scholarships so young ladies with families could go back to college. Describing Mrs. Adams as “a beautiful, soft-spoken and kind lady,” the former nurse said her late friend’s passion and dedication were some of her most outstanding attributes.
“The devotion to her family and to the different causes really stood out to me,” Mrs. Yates said. “Once you raise your children, then you look to do the things you enjoy. She loved the woods, the hunting and that life, but she also enjoyed being with people and friends, and that’s when she got involved with PEO.”
Fort Pierce attorney Frank Fee III said although he'd known of Bud and Dot Adams as far back as his high school days, he really got to know the former after graduating from law school in 1969 and going to work for First Federal Savings and Loan in Fort Pierce. He called Mrs. Adams a “true southern lady.”
“In the 1970s, I began to hunt with him [Mr. Adams] and some other common close friends, and that’s when our friendship really grew and I came to know Bud and Dot,” he said. “She was a hunter and enjoyed doing that with her husband.”
Mr. Fee eventually took on the role as general counsel for the Adams Ranch Corporation and became even more intimately involved with the family. He said the couple’s contributions to St. Lucie County, the ranching community and the environment in general were too numerous to list.
“As far as environmentalism and community activism, he’s been on all the boards and received all the awards,” he explained. “Dot was always a very valuable asset to Bud, and I know she was very involved in hospital work. She was simply a vital part of Bud’s persona, and he couldn’t accomplish what he did without her.”
Mrs. Yates, who helped watch over Mr. Adams in his final days at home, was asked by the family to say a few words at the private graveside service for Mrs. Adams at Harrison Cemetery. In her brief tribute to her old friend and her husband, she said Mr. Adams’s devotion to his wife before he died shone through as clearly as that expressed in The Notebook.
“Bud was very good at writing letters and notes, and he wrote to Bill over the years,” she said, quoting from her funeral tribute. “I looked at them yesterday, and he would consistently write ‘my beautiful wife is still beautiful and although she cannot talk, I know she loves me.’ It is always hard when you lose a friend and he loved her, and I admired both of them.”
Their youngest son affirmed his father’s devotion to the love of his life.
“Dad was able to care for her for a long time,” Mr. Adams explained. “He was always by her side and gave comfort. The family provided care at first, with myself and her Granddaughter LeeAnn very involved. Later we hired two special ladies that provided round-the-clock care for Dad and Mom. So, she and Dad stayed at home to the end.”
Mrs. Simmons agreed.
“She and my grandfather both passed away peacefully at home, the same home they had been in since they were married,” she said. “We were so fortunate to have the best care for them at home.”