Remembrance of Professor Eddie Ade Knowles

By John E. Kolb ‘79, P.E.

Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles passed away on February 4, 2020. Eddie was a stalwart of the Rensselaer community, the consummate professional, and a passionate advocate for Rensselaer students. Dr. Knowles was our long-term Vice President for Student Life who joined Rensselaer while I was still an undergraduate student – and I do hope all of those student records have been expunged. He and I would often refer to each other as “brothers from another mother.”

Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles was born in Harlem, New York on May 3, 1946, the son of Efhram and Maggie Knowles. He received his bachelor's degree from Lincoln University, a master's degree from Columbia University, and a doctorate in public policy and administration from Rockefeller College. He always spoke about his good fortune to find his wife, Chris, and how she helped keep him grounded and healthy for many years.

Before Rensselaer, Dr. Knowles had a varied background as a semi-pro baseball player, participant in the Civil Rights Movement, musician extraordinaire — he had numerous musical tours with Gil Scott-Heron, including a trip with a small group called “Earth, Wind and Fire” and had the nickname “ADENOLA,” or Ade) — student life professional, educator, and, as I learned the hard way, a taxi driver.

Dr. Knowles started his Rensselaer service in the Dean of Students office and then was the primary person responsible in the creation of the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA). He had the very difficult job of Dean of Students for 16 years – making the tough calls in the middle of the night to parents, and others, to deal with some very difficult situations. Eddie was amused by some of the creative alibis concocted by some of our best and brightest. Eddie always spoke of “catching our students doing something right.” I learned a lot from him as he led detailed post-event sessions on what we as a university and a community could do better in the future to particularly help our students.

During all this time, he continued to pursue his love of music through his teaching of African and Afro-Cuban percussion, his board leadership of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and his musical leadership of the Ensemble Congeros.

Eddie was a dedicated advocate for athletics. He could be found on the 30-yard line for all the home football games. Part of his ritual was to not shave the morning of a game. Upon his retirement, we presented him with a “shaving memento” with the inscription “For emergency use only — if superstitious, do not break glass.” In 2003, Eddie and I had the distinct privilege of joining the football team when they made it to the semi-finals of the NCAA playoffs. It was a terrific time for our team, the coaches, and their supporters on a chartered aircraft from Troy, to Collegeville, Minnesota. We deplaned in Minneapolis, where the temperature was literally 20 degrees below zero. I stayed behind while Eddie was transported to another terminal to pick up a rental car. After several hours, I was still waiting for Eddie, who finally showed up in a big old Cadillac. He was a little frazzled and apologized that there were many airport terminals in Minneapolis and he had been to almost all of them. During our two-hour trek up to St. Cloud we came across a mattress across the Interstate highway. Now imagine a large Cadillac hitting a king-size mattress. We went up and over this bed and landed on the other side. So, another memento that we presented to Dr. Knowles, at his retirement, had the inscription which read “No matter the situation, Eddie Ade Knowles always knows how to land softly.”

Eddie was known for his “Adeisms.” Some include:

  • “I was born at night, but not last night”
  • “My name is Bennett and I am not in it”
  • He helped us in emergency planning by using musician metaphors about needing to “learn the scales and chords, before one could improvise the song.”
  • He was very fond of his family. His stepson shared that his Drill Sergeant said the same things that Ade had been saying for years. This was a proud moment for Eddie.

Eddie helped many of us understand more fully the meaning of diversity by asking how we all could view the world differently every day. But most of all to me, he helped to define what a great friend is all about. One of the last notes I received from Eddie sums it up — “If you want to help me, pray for me every day, send good vibes my way and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, bring me a bottle of my favorite rum !”

Download a PDF of the Eulogy

Back to top