A Harvard Son
The new Harvard Alumni Association president, Scott Abell '72, counts himself among the very lucky few. Not only did he survive childhood polio, he fought off its crippling effects to become a competitive swimmer, wrestler, and runner (not to mention president of his class) in high school.
Still, Abell says, "I was a tough kid" of modest means, not unfamiliar with defending himself in the occasional back- street brawl. So when Harvard College admissions recruiter Jack Viets '38, who covered the Cleveland region for the local Harvard club's schools and scholarships committee, called Abell's school about meeting with the top few students, the guidance counselor suggested his own son, among others, but failed to tell him about Abell. It was Viets himself (still recruiting and legendary for his discernment) who sought out Abell and urged him to apply.
"I had heard of the name Harvard, but I couldn't have even told you what city it was in," Abell recalls. "He convinced me it would be worth my while to go. Otherwise, with my family history--my father was very ill, we were not wealthy by any means, my sister needed help getting through school--I was being encouraged to go to night school near home and learn a trade." It was people like Viets, and others at Harvard--like Fred Glimp '50, then dean of the College, and Jack Reardon '60, then associate dean of admissions and financial aid (and now HAA executive director)--who interpreted his toughness "as an inner strength that, if honed, could be turned into something good, something useful," Abell says. "For that I owe them a huge debt of gratitude."
For the last 25 years, Abell has tried to return those gifts of faith and opportunity. After graduation, he became an entrepreneur, building financial services companies. Abell & Associates, of which he is chief executive officer, was sold to the public company FirstMerit in 1997 and is still growing. But Abell now spends much of his time as a philanthropist. As a schools and scholarships committee member for the last 20 years, primarily in northeastern Ohio, Abell estimates he has interviewed hundreds of potential students. As a "fervent" backer of need-blind admissions, he has also spent time raising funds for financial aid.
In succeeding T'ing C. Pei '65 as HAA president, Abell plans to continue Pei's focus on the arts, influenced in part by his wife, Cindy (Hurd) Abell, an illustrator. Abell also intends to pursue the HAA's strategic-planning goals, which include trying to create more resources and better physical space for its year-round administrative staff and possibly creating an alumni visitors' center on campus. Strengthening computerized communication among alumni of the College and the professional schools, as well as among Harvard's various alumni organizations, is also high on Abell's "to do" list. "With the changes coming about electronically, we have the ability to tap into massive resources," he says. "I would like to bring the alumni closer together and closer to the University, to make each a resource for the other."
Although others might take for granted the resources of and connections to a community like Harvard, Abell never will. "I cannot tell you the difference it has made in my life, and the life of my family," he says. His daughter, Kelly S. Abell '02, competes for the track team. His teenage son, Patrick, is an aspiring screenwriter "convinced he'll become the next George Lucas." Watching them grow, Abell is reminded of where he began. "To come back in this position and see my daughter here--it's just thrilling," he adds. "What I learned from people here is that anything is still possible."