WASHINGTON — Sherman Adams, who resigned under fire as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's chief White House aide in 1958 after accepting a vicuna coat and other gifts from an old friend who was having problems with the government, died today.
He was 87 and died in a hospital in Hanover, N.H., of respiratory complications. He most recently had owned a posh ski resort in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire.
Until his resignation, Adams, a former Republican governor of New Hampshire, was the second most powerful figure in the executive branch of the government. He was a skilled and hard-working administrator, qualities prized by Eisenhower, who, as a career military man, put a high premium on staff work and disliked being bothered by details.
But Adams, by nature a taciturn New Englander, also was imperious, abrupt, aloof and a zealous guardian of access to the President.
'Abominable No Man'
"Adams is the man you want to see if you want to see Eisenhower," was a cliche of the times. And because Adams said "no" far more often than "yes," he became known as "the abominable no man."
Thus, except for Eisenhower, Adams had few powerful political figures to rush to his defense when he got in trouble.
Early in 1958, a House Commerce subcommittee investigating the functioning of federal regulatory agencies discovered that Adams had contacted some of those agencies regarding the business problems of a friend, millionaire industrialist Bernard Goldfine of Boston.
The Democratic-controlled subcommittee learned that Goldfine had given Adams a full-length vicuna coat, loaned him an expensive Oriental rug and paid some hotel bills for him, including one at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
Adams acknowledged making the calls and accepting the gifts, but he insisted there had been no influence-peddling. In a dramatic appearance before the House subcommittee on June 17, 1958, Adams swore under oath that he had a "clear conscience."
Major Political Issue
Although no evidence of wrongdoing was produced, the Democrats quickly built the Adams-Goldfine case into a major political issue. Fearful of the consequences and seeing an opportunity to retaliate against Adams, congressional Republicans warned Eisenhower that unless Adams was fired, the party would be in danger of losing many seats in elections that November.
On Sept. 22, 1958, Adams resigned, saying in a brief broadcast address that he was quitting to spare any embarrassment to Eisenhower but insisting that his pride and honor were intact.
Adams was descended from Henry Adams, who established the famous Quincy, Mass., branch of the family in early colonial days.
He was elected governor of New Hampshire in 1949 and became one of Eisenhower's earliest backers for the presidency.
As Eisenhower's top aide, Adams was noted for being close-mouthed.
One story had it that he was approached at a party by a gushy woman who asked if he had any children. "Three girls, boy at Dartmouth," Adams replied.
"Oh," said the woman, "tell me about them."
"Just did," Adams said.