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Sunday, March 29, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gordon Adam, 76, Rowed For UW Gold-Medal Crew In '36

Gordon Adam came to the University of Washington as a farm boy and left as a hero.

He was one of nine strapping young men who rowed and shouted a Husky boat to victory in a crew race, right under the nose of Adolf Hitler, more than five decades ago at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

When the No. 3 oarsman died in his sleep at age 76 on Friday (March 27, 1992), he became the second member of the famous gold-medal crew to pass away. The other, oarsman Charles Day, died 30 years ago.

Mr. Adam passed away at his retirement home in Laguna Hills, Calif., but no matter where the members of the 1936 crew resided, they were part of an inseparable family, says coxswain Robert Moch, who is a Seattle attorney.

At least once a year,the crew gets together for a reunion. In 1986, at the 50th anniversary of their Berlin Olympics victory, the eight surviving crew members hoisted the original boat into the water for one more stroke around the waters of Lake Washington.

"It was very tough," Moch said yesterday when asked what it was like to lose another member of the city's most famous crew.

With professional football, baseball and basketball teams vying for Seattle's attention these days, it's hard to imagine what it was like when the University of Washington crew was the biggest sports story in town.

But Moch remembers making headlines by simply suffering from laryngitis. Sports writers regularly attended practice to watch every nuance of the team's performance. The crew - whose members weighed an average 167 pounds each - won every race in 1936 and 1937. It was the first rowing team in American history to win four major championship trophies in a single year.

"It was probably bigger than Husky football," recalled Moch.

Mr. Adam was one of the middle four rowers who were known as the engine room because their power was so important to victory. He was raised on a dairy farm in Everson, Whatcom County, and came to the University of Washington in 1934.

He was a key member of the team that beat a Pennsylvania crew for a place in the Olympics.

He helped raise the money to attend the Olympics when a disgruntled Olympic official from Pennsylvania forced the Huskies to pay their own way to Berlin, unlike members of the other Olympic teams, who were given transportation. The Husky crew raised the necessary $5,000 per team member in a period of 24 hours, with the help of some very rabid fans.

The race itself was the stuff of legends. Mr. Adam and the number eight oarsman, Donald Hume, were both suffering with colds. Hume was in such bad shape that during the race he nearly passed out. The competing boats were gaining on Washington, taking advantage of a hill that blocked their wind but that left the Husky boat unprotected. Moch shouted at Hume to pick up the pace, but the ill oarsman didn't respond. Hume's position, known as the stroke, is the one that sets the pace.

It looked like the U.S. boat might lose to Italy, and perhaps fall behind Germany, too, but Hume came out of his stupor. The Husky oarsmen then picked up the pace and crossed the line six-tenths of a second in front of Italy. It wasn't a fast race, but the Husky crew had already set the Olympic record in a preliminary heat.

The Husky crew returned to a giant welcome. A few months later, Mr. Adam met his future wife, Margaret, who remembers being one of the Seattle residents who dropped a coin in a cup to send the crew to Germany. Mr. Adam graduated from the UW with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1938 and worked at Boeing in the production department until he retired in 1977. He was one of six engineers among the crew members. The others included a physician, a lawyer and a coal-and-oil businessman.

Mr. Adam and his wife traveled extensively to Europe and Asia. In 1961, Mr. Adam took his wife to the lake where he won his gold medal. A few months after they visited the scene of triumph, the Berlin Wall was erected, blocking travel for Americans to that part of East Germany. Margaret Adam recalls that the cab driver who took them to the lake had watched her husband win the medal as a teen-ager.

"It was thrilling," she said.

Mrs. Adam says her husband's gold medal - framed on the living-room wall next to a quarter-scale replica of his oar - was truly the high point of his life.

Although he had undergone open heart surgery five years ago, Mr. Adam, an avid gardener and golfer, was in relatively good health up until his death in his sleep, his wife said. There was no funeral, but Mr. Adam's ashes will be strewn, appropriately, over the water.

He is survived by his wife, his daughter, Tracy Ward of Illiopeolis, Ill.; and his son, David Adam of Tucson, Ariz. The family suggests remembrances to Saddleback Memorial Heart Institute, 24401 Calle de la Louisa, Laguna Hills, CA 92653.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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