Marcelle Adams leaves legacy for women in public service
Last updated 6/6/2023 at 6:43pm
Before a Commissioners Court meeting began in 1983, Marcelle Adams, a retiree who became interested in Orange County government, was seen talking sternly to the county engineer, who stood a head taller than her. As she talked, she pointed her index finger at him and poked him in the chest.
Not many women 40 years ago would have done that. But Adams didn't stop with that encounter. She decided to run for office and later become the first woman to join what she late called "the Good Old Boys Club," commissioners court.
Marcelle Adams, a legend in her own time, died Sunday at her home in Orange. She was 99 years old. Her only child, daughter Theresa Adams Beauchamp, later was elected to the same Precinct 2 commissioners seat and they are the only mother-daughter in the state to serve as county commissioners.
Adams in 1983 was 60 years old and retired from DuPont. In January that year, James Stringer became county judge after a contentious race against the incumbent, Pete Runnels. All four of the sitting county commissioners were at odds with Stringer and his new plans, including selling the county-owned hospital to a private company.
Adams began attending commissioners court meetings and giving her opinions.
Two commissioners were set to run for re-election in 1984, but the two incumbents announced they would not run. At the same time, the other two incumbents announced they would leave their terms after only two years and would let their positions also be on the ballots.
When the Precinct 2 incumbent announced he would leave after two years, Adams decided to run. A total of 26 candidates ran for the four open spots. Adams lost to Charles McQuade. But two years later, she beat him.
She would tell people how he talked about how she couldn't handle the rugged work of a commissioner because she was used to playing bridge and growing roses. He should have known better.
Adams was married for decades to Albert "Cowboy" Adams, the descendant of pioneering Orange County residents. He got his nickname because he could ride and rope with the best of cowboys. Marcelle Adams didn't let him leave her behind.
She would recall that after her win, she got a pickup truck, put on her pants and boots, and went out on the roads to keep an eye out in her precinct. She became known as an outspoken member of the court who did her homework before meetings and versed herself on the activities of county government.
She lost her seat on the court when she made an unsuccessful bid in the 1990s for county judge.
Adams first moved to Orange as a teenager with her parents during the World War II shipbuilding boom. Like thousands of families at the time, they lived in a house in the Riverside housing along the Sabine River near the shipyards. She met Albert, "My Al," as she fondly called him. It was love and they married.
Albert Adams, who became the county animal officer, was elected to the Orange County Drainage District board of directors in the 1990s. He died of cancer in 1998.
Their daughter, Theresa Beauchamp, moved to Orange with her husband, Frank, who also grew up in Orange, to be closer. Theresa inherited the public service gene from her mother and ran for Orange City Council.
Beauchamp remembered that her mother advised her the best way to win was to go door-to-door knocking to meet people. And that's what she did to win her first race.
She later retired as an educator and left the city council, only to run for the Precinct 2 commissioners seat in 2018. She won, and did not run for another term.
Precinct 2 has the distinct honor of having the only women commissioners in county history. In between the years of Marcelle and Theresa, the late Sue Bearden won the spot. After her election win, she credited Marcelle Adams as being her inspiration.