Shirley L. Abbott '52, OD '53

Shirley L. Abbott '52, OD '53
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Former U.S. ambassador Shirley L. Abbott '52, OD '53 died April 23, 2013, of congestive heart failure. He was 88.

An optometrist by trade, Abbott also was a rancher, a politician and served as ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho under President Ronald Reagan’s administration. He also was a devoted alumnus of Pacific University, where, in 2003, his support established the Abbott Alumni Center. In 2007, he received the Pacific University Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award.

Abbott spent his early years on a tenant dairy farm in Minnesota before moving with his family to El Paso, Texas, where he graduated from high school. He attended what is now the University of Texas at El Paso but left to join the Army during World War II. Following the war, he earned his bachelor and doctorate degrees at Pacific University.

He returned to El Paso, where he was one of the first in the region to fit corneal contact lenses. His optometric practice became one of the largest in the city. In the late 1960s, he started an optical company that later became Sunland Optical, then the largest military optical contractor in the country. He also developed apartment housing and operated farms in New Mexico, Texas and California, as well as one in South Africa with his grandson, Jason. He also was director of several local banks.

In the mid-1970s, he was appointed regional director of the Bi-Centennial Administration. He co-founded the Granaderos de Galvez, which honored the Spanish influence on the development of America. He also traveled to Spain several times as a guest of the Spanish government, was named Honorary Consul General of Spain for Texas and was granted The Order of Isabella La Catolica, the highest honor awarded to a non-Spanish citizen.

Abbott served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1977 to 1978. In 1983, President Reagan appointed him ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho, an independent monarchy in southern Africa.

In his later years, Abbott and his wife, Arline, divided their time between Texas and California. He was preceded in death by his wife. Abbott is survived by his son, Alan, a former member of the Pacific University Board of Trustees; his grandson, Jason; his granddaughter, Allison Kaelin ‘06; two great-grandchildren; and a brother, Bill.

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