Abbott Fenn Remembered: “A Warrior for the Natural World”

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Abbott Fenn 1960-70s

Abbott T. Fenn in ~1960s

A gentle, unassuming man with a thirst for wilderness and a huge commitment to our natural world left us last Friday. Less than two months shy of his 94th birthday, Abbott Thayer Fenn slipped away peacefully at his Middlebury home in the early hours of April 3. Few people have left such a lasting mark on so many, and done so in such a caring and unaffected way. His most enduring legacy may be the legions of young men whose lives he touched at his beloved Keewaydin Camps on the shores of Lake Dunmore in Salisbury. The oldest private camp in this country, Keewaydin flourished over the 60+ years of Abbott’s close involvement, instilling a love of the outdoors and adventure in generations of campers.

I have a long and rich personal history with Abbott, tracing back to my middle school days in Fitchburg, MA, where Abbott taught me mathematics, presided over my 9th grade home room, and coached my ice hockey and baseball teams. He was a patient but no-nonsense teacher and coach, focused on both the fundamentals and intricacies of learning and sports. As a former Harvard University hockey goalie, he spoke with authority, demanding just the right kind of discipline, never heavy-handed, always sincerely and personally interested in his “pupils”.

Following my ninth grade year, Abbott shepherded me through a life-changing experience on one of his signature Keewaydin Wilderness Canoe Trips in northern Quebec. For five weeks, I paddled and portaged with ten other 14-16 year old boys, Abbott, co-leader and a Cree Indian guide named Matthew Neeposh on a grueling but exhilarating trip in wood-canvas canoes. From Lake Mistassini we canoed to the Broadback River, then down the Rupert River to James Bay. I didn’t know it then, but the experience propelled me on a path towards natural history studies and conservation. I will always be profoundly thankful to Abbott for that gift. As a fellow birder and former bird bander, Abbott maintained his keen interest and supportive involvement, both with my own life and VCE’s success.

CCR and Abbott

Abbott and one of his biggest fans, Norwich, 2009

 

Two quotes from others say much about this extraordinary person. A former Keewaydin staff referred to Abbott as “a man of wisdom, strength and principle”, while a local environmentalist marveled that he was “a warrior for the natural world.” Add to that a caring, generous, adventurous, and deeply committed spirit. Abbott Fenn touched many lives – may you continue to paddle the quiet waters, Abbott!

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Comments (2)

  1. Gioia Kuss says:

    He did indeed touch many lives. We will miss Abbott’s large heart, warm laugh, and guidance. The natural world has many more protectors because of him. Such large shoes to fill. Thank you for this lovely tribute.

  2. John Carpenter says:

    Abby was such a positive force in so many boy’s and young men’s lives. He cared deeply for nature and environment and he wanted to share his love. I had a special experience with him on the Leicester plains one twilight as he took me and two Venezuelan campers from Keewaydin “birding”. We saw lots of birds, but the other magical things that we saw and experienced that evening – that I could never describe with words – are my lasting memory and tribute to Abby.

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