, Salem, MA

April 25, 2013

Former newspaper editor, conservationist was a lifelong learner


By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently.

MANCHESTER — Gordon Abbott Jr. was endlessly curious.

That’s what led him to leave business school after a year to become a reporter at the Gloucester Daily Times in 1956 and eventually become the editor of that paper and the Beverly Times.

“He loved journalism,” said his son, Chris. “He wanted to be enmeshed with the people and places of Cape Ann.”

Abbott, of Manchester-by-the-Sea, died last week from complications of prostate cancer after being diagnosed five years ago. He was 85.

Chris said his father worked for the local newspaper company from 1956 to 1966.

After a year of pursuing an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, Abbott decided he didn’t want to be a “man in the gray flannel suit,” Chris said.

“He was an intensely curious person. He had a natural curiosity of people. Whenever we brought someone home, he would give them what we call the ‘Gordon Abbott Grilling.’”

The typical “grilling” included: Where did you grow up? Who are your parents? What are you reading? He’d also ask for their thoughts on what was going on in the world, Chris said.

Chris remembers the many times his father would leave the house in the middle of the night to cover house fires and other breaking news stories. As a newspaperman, Abbott was interested in the fishing industry, local politics and writing editorials that considered a “larger world view,” his son said.

He eventually left the paper to become the first director of the Trustees of Reservations. In his 18 years, the organization became the largest independent owner of conservation land in the state.

Fred Winthrop of Ipswich said it was Abbott who paved the way for the organization’s growth and current success.

“He really did an amazing job of popularizing the trustees and expanding the number of reservations,” said Winthrop, who took over as director after Abbott. “He made it into a more active and professional organization. Before, it was mostly volunteer.”

Working for a conservation organization was a natural fit for a man who loved to ski, hike and boat.

At 17, he entered the Navy and served aboard a minesweeper in the Pacific Theater during the tail end of World War II. Later, he enrolled at Harvard College, where he played freshman hockey, was on the varsity ski team, and raced single and double sculls, including competing for a berth at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. He graduated in 1950.

“He loved being outdoors. It was the place that made him happiest,” Chris said, noting that his father enjoyed Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, as well as the waters off Manchester.

Beverly resident George Lodge, who was friends with Abbott since he was 6, recalled one sailing trip in the 1970s on Gordon’s 36-foot boat from Manchester to Southwest Harbor in Maine.

“We went all night,” he said. “There was a beautiful northwest wind, so we made good time. The stars were very bright, and the sky was clear. We could see all the lighthouses.”

Lodge said Abbott was a true newspaperman and loved to know what was going on.

“He was great fun to talk to, he liked to talk,” Lodge said. “But remarkably, he liked to listen. He was an intent, curious and sympathetic listener.”

After retiring in 1984, Abbott continued to write and penned a few books, including a book on the history of the trustees. His most recent book on the history of the Manchester Yacht Club was published in December.

He also returned to school, earning a master’s in American studies from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1990.

“He was in his 60s going back to school,” Chris said. “That was an example of his curiosity. He prided himself as a lifelong learner.”

Abbott’s philosophy of life was: “Leave the world a better place than how you found it.” By many accounts, he did just that.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.