In his childhood, Scott A. Abell ’72 overcame polio and grew up in Ohio with “very, very modest means,” according to his son. Now, he’s one of the three members of the Board of Overseers on the search committee currently choosing Harvard’s next president.
Abell’s son, Patrick Abell ’07, said that his father’s commitment to the University has always been palpable. Scott Abell, the current president of the Board of Overseers, has previously served as president of the Harvard Alumni Association and the dean for development for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“In the alumni association, and later in the development office for FAS, I think he’s always been a lead-by-example sort of person, where you look out for what’s best for the university, and you treat people well,” Patrick Abell said.
Abell’s professional background is in the fields of financial services and healthcare consulting—he founded Abell & Associates, Inc. in Ohio in 1973, and has served as its chair and CEO for nearly 30 years. As a philanthropist, he’s served as a trustee of several medical care providers; as a Harvard Overseer, he has served on the committee on natural and applied sciences and the visiting committees for a variety of departments in the Sciences division.
His expertise in fundraising will be an asset to the search committee: the Harvard president’s role includes serving as the University’s fundraiser-in-chief, and committee members will likely look for candidates with the ability to court wealthy donors and grow the school’s endowment.
After graduating from Kirkland House over four decades ago, Abell’s involvement as an alumnus began with his local Harvard Club in northeastern Ohio. Abell is still involved in the chapter—he’s been a featured speaker multiple times at club dinners, including one last month, at which he discussed the presidential search, according to the club’s website.
“I think he felt a lot of obligation to pay Harvard back and to pay it forward in the community,” Patrick Abell said. “I think he just always wanted to be a good steward of the school and a good ambassador for the school in the Cleveland area.”
This is not the first time that Abell has seen a presidential search at Harvard. While Abell was serving as the FAS dean for development, former University President Lawrence H. Summers resigned from his post, prompting the search that ultimately selected University President Drew G. Faust’s for the position.
James M. Griffin ’64, an officer of the Harvard Club of Northeast Ohio who has worked with Abell, said Abell kept the local Club informed with the goings-on of the presidential turnover in 2006.
“He spoke to us about what was going on at Harvard with Larry Summers’ resignation and the turmoil going on in the ranks of the deans and the department heads, and the search for the interim president for Summers,” Griffin said.
As for what he brings to the search committee table in 2017, Griffin said Abell’s years of service to the University have given him substantial institutional knowledge of all things Harvard.
“He has been an absolutely magnificent vehicle for what’s going on at Harvard,” Griffin said. “He seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s going on and all the parts of the university."
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.