Ex-Smithsonian chief Robert McCormick Adams dies at 91

The former chief of the Smithsonian Institution Robert McCormick Adams, who played a key role in opening several new museums including the National Postal Museum, died on Jan. 27 in California at the age of 91.

According to a Feb. 1 Washington Post obituary, Adams sought to make “confrontation, experimentation and debate” part of the Smithsonian’s mandate. He served as secretary of the Smithsonian from 1984-94, succeeding S. Dillon Ripley II, whose 20-year reign “transformed a staid grouping of museums into a world-class center of education, amusement and entertainment.”

“It was an almost impossible legacy to match, and Dr. Adams tried to play down comparisons with Ripley, who socialized with political leaders and philanthropists,” reads the obituary. “As The Washington Post once reported in a profile, Dr. Adams’s notion of a ‘terrific evening’ was soup and a sandwich at home.”

In addition to the National Postal Museum, Adams’ tenure included the launch of the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

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