Gordon Abbott, Jr. ‘90
Extending Educational Landscapes
Little is more interesting to Gordon Abbott Jr., who, in his late 50’s decided to pursue American Studies as a master's degree candidate at UMass Boston, than the multi-faceted history of the United States. In fact, he’s devoted much of his professional life to ensuring that the environmental and cultural heritage of communities in Massachusetts is preserved. When rapid and uncontrolled development during the 1980’s threatened the rural character of much of the Massachusetts landscape, Abbott took action.
As director of the Trustees of Reservations for over 18 years, he was dedicated to finding ways to accommodate community growth with minimal loss of rural character, creating village centers, and exploring alternatives for economic development. To pursue this work he forged alliances with the Stockbridge School and the department of landscape architecture and regional planning at UMass Amherst.
With the UMass Amherst Dean’s and the Department’s support and an act of the legislature, Abbott led the way to the establishment of the Center for Rural Massachusetts. “We established guidelines for growth that were workable and beneficial for both developers and the community,” he says about finding a creative way to effectively manage the Commonwealth’s growth. “What’s powerful about the role of land grant universities,” he explains, in describing his encounter with the University of Massachusetts, “is that, unlike private institutions where public service is up to the individual,it is a vital portion of a public university’s mission.”
During these years, he found inspiration for these objectives through his masters degree studies at UMass Boston. In fact, exploring the “greats” like Thoreau and Emerson, he wrote his thesis on the philosophy of man’s apparent great need for open spaces. The Harvard and Wharton educated businessmen and journalist was deeply impressed by the quality of the scholars, with whom he felt privileged to study-the university’s own “greats”- Irving Bartlett, Tom Brown, Lois Rudnick and Paul Wantanabe.
Looking back on his undergraduate days, Abbott says. “You always wish you had studied a little harder,” so at 57, eager for a new academic adventure, he selected UMass Boston, not a “usual suspect” Ivy League institution. His engagement with the university enlarged his admiration for its public mission. “UMass Boston is a place that takes you into the world like few others,” he adds.
Soon after commencement, Abbott included the University in his charitable giving with unrestricted annual gifts and as a named beneficiary for his estate plans. Success today, he emphasizes, for all Americans is based on education. This is true for those of college age as it is for people in middle age or mid career—mothers, fathers, and returning veterans.
Clearly, Abbott who received his MA in 1990, believes that UMass Boston and its own spectacular landscape overlooking Boston Harbor, offers broad opportunities to learn and to grow, and, as he did, begin a new adventure in academia which will be useful and enjoyable throughout life.