Gordon Abbott Jr., a third-generation resident of Manchester, MA, died from complications of prostate cancer on April 17, 2013.
Born in Boston on May 2, 1927, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Abbott (Esther Lowell Cunningham), Gordon was a lifelong learner. He was graduated from Dexter School in Brookline, Brooks School in North Andover and Harvard, where, as part of the class of 1950, he lived in Lowell House and majored in social anthropology with a focus on Asia. He played freshman hockey, skied on the varsity ski team for four years, and raced single and double sculls, including a try to represent the U.S. at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Two years at the Wharton School convinced him that the “gray flannel suit” business life was not for him. At heart, he was a natural reporter, a journalist and teacher.
Gordon Abbott Jr
Thus began his professional career as an English instructor, dorm master and coach at Brooks School. He also wrote advertising copy for Batten Barton Durstine & Osborne in New York and eventually Boston. For more than a decade he served as editor of the Gloucester Daily Times and the Beverly Evening Times. His love of writing and history inspired him to write three books—Saving Special Places: A Centennial History of the Trustees of Reservations, Pioneer of the Land Trust Movement; Jeffrey’s Creek: A Story of the People Places, and Events in the Town that Came to be Called Manchester-by-the-Sea; and For the Encouragement of Yachting: A History of the Manchester Yacht Club with a Collection of Personal Memories. In 1985 he became a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where he proposed and helped establish the Center for Rural Massachusetts at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Designed to help rural communities deal with urban sprawl and retain their rural character, the Center still flourishes today. Following his retirement in 1990, Gordon earned a master’s degree in American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Never without a book, he enjoyed reading, particularly about history, war and naval conflicts, and biographies.
Philanthropy was always important to Gordon, who served on the governing boards of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and the USS Constitution Museum, where he was also chairman of the education committee. In 2004, he received the Museum’s Charles Francis Adams Award, named for its founder and presented to those who have given of themselves for the betterment of the community, and whose good works have resulted in profound positive change for its citizens. Gordon was a trustee of the Shore Country Day School in Beverly, Brooks School, and Connecticut College. He was elected director of the Harvard Alumni Association and for many years was on the Committee for the Happy Observance of Commencement. Since 2010, he served as secretary of his Harvard class of 1950. He had also served as commodore of the Manchester Yacht Club. Active in town affairs, he was a member of the Manchester Planning Board and chairman of the Harbor Committee, and served on the board of the Manchester Historical Society.
During his lifetime, Gordon enjoyed his associations as a member of numerous organizations, including the A.D. Club at Harvard, the Tennis & Racquet Club, Union Boat Club, Tavern Club, Sigma Delta Chi (of which he was New England president for two years), the Society of the Cincinnati, Royal Ocean Racing Club of London, Cruising Club of America, Manchester Harbor Boat Club, Ski Club Hochgebirge in Franconia, NH, Essex Country Club, Tavern Club, and the Club of Odd Volumes. He was formerly a member of The Somerset Club, Tennis & Racquet Club of Boston, Nantucket Yacht Club, and Union Boat Club.
Gordon’s love of the outdoors and the environment led him to become the first director of The Trustees of Reservations, which during his 18 years’ tenure became the largest private owner of conservation land in the Commonwealth. Gordon adored the mountains, where he skied and hiked. The open sea offered him an infinite sense of excitement and freedom. As a boy, he crewed on his father’s sailboat. At the age of 17 ½, he joined the Navy and served aboard a minesweeper in the Pacific Theater. He loved to row and sail his own boats, particularly up and down the coast of Maine. He also relished racing and competed in England, Bermuda, Halifax, and around New England.
Devoted to his family, friends, community, and the institutions he served, he will always be remembered for his rare zest for life. Gordon loved people—young and old—and enjoyed nothing more than hearing someone’s story: where they grew up, what they did, and how they felt about a wide range of topics. Gordon was engaging, charismatic, and deeply curious about the world around him. An independent spirit, he charted his own course both on land and at sea.
He leaves his wife, the former Katharine Oliver Stanley-Brown, of Washington and Nantucket; his four children, Christopher Cunningham Abbott of New York and Manchester, Katrina Schermerhorn Abbott of Cambridge, MA, Victoria Abbott Riccardi of Newton, MA, and Alexandra Garfield Abbott of Boston; and five grandchildren.