Fred Rodgers Adams, Jr., known to many as “The Big Chicken,” passed away Sunday, March 29, 2020, at his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
Fred was preceded in death by his mother, Maudine Elizabeth Ford Adams, father, Fred Rodgers Adams, and siblings Mary Katherine Adams Land, Betty Adams Cunningham, and Andrew Jackson Adams, as well as his first wife, Dorothy “Dot” Proctor Adams. He is survived by his second wife, Jean Reed Adams. He is also survived by his four daughters with Dot: Dea Dea Adams Baker of Jackson, Miss. (Dolph); Luanne Adams of Gibson Island, Md. (Murrell Smith); Nancy Adams Briggs of Charlottesville, Va. (Carl); and Laurel Adams Krodel of Brentwood, Tenn. (Eric). Fred and Dot shared eight grandchildren, who called him “PaPa”: Rachel Baker (James Burnett), Jessi Baker, Jackson Krodel, Samuel Krodel, Eliza Krodel, Georgia Krodel, Dorothy Briggs, and Buck Smith. He is also survived by five step-children with Jean: Lesa Morris Rogel (Carl); Shannon Morris Miller (Mitch); Robin Morris McGuire (James); Bobby Morris; and Kyle Morris (Kathryn), as well as fourteen step-grandchildren—Beau, Brynn, Zach, Travis, Olivia, Colton, Ashlea, Megan, Lindsay, Matthew, Jacob, Abigail, Brock, and Kade—and fifteen step-great-grandchildren.
Over his more than 60 years in agriculture, Fred emerged as an egg industry trailblazer and singular personality. While he always had outsize ambitions, his beginnings were humble. He was born on November 26, 1931, in Macon, Mississippi and attended grade and high school at Noxubee County, Mississippi. Even as a child, he had a deeply entrepreneurial spirit. His father gave him a patch of cotton and two cows, inspiring young Fred to produce and sell cotton and milk.
Measuring in at 6-foot-four, Fred was quite the athlete. He played both offensive and defensive ends for the Macon High School football team and went on to play at East Mississippi Junior College in Scooba, Mississippi under legendary Coach Bill Sullivan, later proclaimed by Sports Illustrated as “the toughest coach there ever was.” The Korean War interrupted Fred’s college years as he and many teammates joined the Mississippi National Guard, training at Ft. Benning, Ga. and Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. He was stationed as a nurse in Germany for seven months.
Once he was discharged in May of 1952, Fred opted to finish his college education at University of Southern Mississippi, where he was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha and he was known to say, “The weather was hot, the girls were pretty, and the beer was cold.” He graduated in 1954 with a degree in marketing and business administration.
While at Southern, Fred courted Dot Proctor of Clarksdale, Mississippi; they married on December 12, 1954 and were together for nearly 40 years, until her untimely death in 1993.
After graduating from Southern, he worked in feed sales for Ralston Purina Company for three years. In 1957, Fred started Adams Egg Farms in Jackson focusing on poultry and commercial eggs. He converted an old Mendenhall cotton gin into a feed mill thanks to a loan he procured “with nothing but a handshake and a smile.”
In 1964, Fred began building the largest egg production facility in the nation, located on 1,086 acres in Edwards, Mississippi. On March 10, 1965, Fred gained national attention when legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey broadcast a segment on his farm, visiting his massive production facility in Edwards and remarking, “That henhouse is something to behold!” This was just one of Fred’s many forays into the national spotlight: He appeared on game show To Tell The Truth as “the real Fred Adams” in the mid sixties, and in 1965 was honored as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in America, alongside two astronauts and a Tony-winning composer and lyricist, by the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.
In 1969, Fred’s companies merged with Maine Egg Farms in New England and Dairy Fresh Products Company in California. When he held an employee contest to name the new company, a staffer suggested Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. and it stuck—the company would distribute from California to Maine.
Since its inception, Cal-Maine—the largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the United States—has been headquartered in Jackson. Cal-Maine became a public company in 1970, and incorporated most of the egg operations of Purina in 1972. In the 1970s, Fred built a broiler farm called Sea-Cal in Iran. He met with the son of the very last Shah of Iran. Sitting in the royal office, a red emergency phone rang, and the prince said, “I can’t talk. I’m talking to the chicken man.” When the Ayatollah took power in 1978, the farm was nationalized. Fred pled his case to the World Court in The Hague and recovered most of his investment. Ever the adventure-seeker, Fred continued to travel the globe, but he would never again invest overseas.
After becoming chairman emeritus in 2012, Fred remained the principal shareholder of the company. Currently traded on the NASDAQ, Cal-Maine is fully integrated with breeder flocks, hatcheries, pullet growing, feed mills, shell egg processing and marketing, and two egg products plants. The company produces more than one-billion dozen-eggs each year. Fred had an unprecedented impact in the last half-century on how table eggs are produced and marketed in the United States.
Known for his quick wit and bright-eyed smile, “Mr. A,” as Fred was called by employees, was often seen chewing on a cigar (he never smoked them). He was known to roam the office, greeting his employees by name. Beloved by his staff, Fred always made sure that they shared in the financial prosperity of Cal-Maine through their E.S.O.P. program. He had his own way of doing things, never used a calculator, and orchestrated multimillion dollar deals by hand-writing his plans on yellow legal pads. Across from his office desk, a cross-stitch hung on the wall bearing one of his favorite mantras: “Seems the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
His many distinctions include the following: Federal Reserve Bank of New Orleans and Regional Bank Atlanta (director, 1971-1981), University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame (2011), United Egg Producers (founding member, 1968, and president, 1971); National Egg Company (president, 1970); Egg Clearinghouse, Inc. (founder and governing board member, 1971); Mississippi Poultry Association Hall of Fame (1976); Mississippi Egg Marketing Board Hall of Fame (1976); U.S. Egg Marketers Producer of the Decade (1987); Urner-Barry Egg Man of the Year (1993); Poultry Vanguard Award of 1993 by Poultry and Egg News; and inclusion in Mississippi Entrepreneurs (2014). Fred was a member of Jackson’s Christ United Methodist Church, where he served on the administrative board.
Plans for a memorial service and celebration of his life will be announced at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to the MIND Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (Development Accounting, 2500 North State. St., Jackson, Miss., 39216), or to Christ United Methodist Church (6000 Old Canton Road, Jackson, Miss., 39211).
Fred’s family sends a special thanks to his devoted caregivers Jason Buckley, Alex Norwood, and Noah Jelks, as well as Teate Ferguson, Junior Mounger, and Donald Ray Burns.
Because Fred always relished the chance to give a strong blessing, his family would like to take this opportunity to say, “AMEN!”