This article was originally published in The Patriot Ledger.
A prioritization of country over self, a commitment to public service, advocacy for the oppressed, the importance of diplomacy, a passion for learning and "the ability for old adversaries to move beyond their differences" are the ideals of his ancestors that Benjamin Adams hopes will be upheld by the future Adams Presidential Center in Quincy.
"These ideas are shared by most Americans and can be traced back at least in some part to the Adamses," Benjamin Adams, a direct descendant of John and Abigail Adams, said. "So more than anything constructed in stone or in bronze, these ideals are the true monument to the Adamses and this is really why the Adams Presidential Center is so incredibly exciting."
Gov. Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, former Gov. Charlie Baker and a dozen other state and local officials gathered at Granite Links Golf Club on Tuesday night for a fundraising kickoff to benefit the Adams Presidential Center, a quasi-presidential library and civic center Mayor Thomas Koch hopes to see built in downtown Quincy.
Koch last summer announced plans to bring the center to the city. A nonprofit was established soon after, headed by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Quincy native. The goals of the center are to share the history of the Adams family, highlight its contributions to the nation's founding and connect the nearly 250-year-old legacy to the modern age.
"The Adams Presidential Center will preserve the history of a truly great American family; promote the concepts of citizenship and selfless public service embodied by John, John Quincy, Abigail and Louisa Catherine Adams; and it will inspire the next generation of young Americans to find a way to serve their communities and their nation," Dunford said at Tuesday's event. "It is certainly appropriate that Quincy, the City of Presidents, be the central location for educating the public about the contributions of the Adams family."
Dunford, Benjamin Adams, Koch, Babson College CFO Katherine Craven, former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, Harvard University professor Danielle Allen, local businessman Ed Keohane, developer Sam Slater and Granite Telecommunications CEO Rob Hale are the first 10 members of a board Koch said will eventually have between 15 and 21 members.
Koch first expressed interest in creating a presidential library to honor the Adamses at his inauguration in January 2020, but later said it likely didn't make sense to establish a formal library due to the operational limitations placed on them by the National Archives and Records Administration. President Barack Obama's foundation made a similar decision.
Instead, Koch last summer announced plans for a center that will serve as a "cutting-edge museum and presidential library, engaging visitors through immersive spaces and interactive digital content," a video played Tuesday night said.
The video, narrated by Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper, described the center as "a place where people of all interests and beliefs engage in civic discourse. A place to celebrate the Adams family's commitment to activism and the immense role they played in shaping the founding principles of our nation."
Koch said last year that the goal is to break ground on the project by the city's 400th anniversary in 2025. The city plans to use land next to the Adams Academy building – built at the birthplace of John Hancock using money left by John Adams to the city – for the center. Quincy is engaged in a legal battle with the trustee of the Adams Temple and School Fund after taking the Adams Academy building and land by eminent domain in 2021.
The city has been in touch with the Boston Public Library, which has maintained John Adams' 3,000-volume book collection for a century, and the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss what historical artifacts could be exhibited or used for programs at the center.
"The Adams Presidential Center isn't about just a building. There will be a beautiful building, but it's really about a place where people can come and take inspiration from the Adamses' story," Allen said in the video. "It will be a place where people are asked not only to take inspiration, but to think about and embrace their own responsibilities as participants in a free and constructional democracy."
At Tuesday's event, Baker and his wife, Lauren, were honored with models of John and Abigail Adams, respectively. Craven, who also serves on the Quincy College board, said there are "easy parallels" to draw between John and Abigail Adams and Charlie and Lauren Baker.
Hale, who donated $1 million to the center's startup, spoke of Baker as a longtime friend and praised him for his commitment to ethical decisions across parties, drawing connections to the former governor and the two Adams presidents.
"Like you, they voted with their conscience and not their parties," Hale said. "Like you, they did what was right, not politically prudent. Like you, they had integrity."
Baker spoke of his admiration for John Adams' integrity, firmness of belief and dedication to ethics. He also spoke to the influence Abigail and Louisa Catherine Adams had on their husbands' respective political success, and praised his own wife's "incalculable" impact on his life in public service. He called Lauren Baker's establishment of the Wonderfund of Massachusetts to support children in state custody, as well as her fundraising for the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, an inspiration.
Lauren Baker, who was not in Quincy to accept her award but did prerecord an acceptance speech from inside Quincy City Hall, said it is "overwhelming" to be compared to Abigail Adams, but added she feels a certain "kinship" with the former first lady.
"It is a pleasure to accompany someone you love in the pursuit of a dream and the journey of public service," she said. "I have great hope that the Adams Presidential Center will succeed in inspiring the next generation of Americans to pursue public service. ... I hope that Charlie and I have been able to make even a fraction of the impact that John and Abigail Adams and the whole Adams family had on our commonwealth and our great nation."