How Kathy Abbott Turned the First CEO of Boston Harbor Now


As a younger youngster, Kathy Abbott spent her summers on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Her mother and father had been environmental conservationists who helped her to understand nature. Abbott additionally had two aunts who introduced her to the Cape seashores and woods. Whereas exploring the pure habitats, her aunts would determine vegetation and animals. These interactions helped Abbott to note and attune to her setting. 

At age 14, Abbott’s household moved to Cape Cod full-time. In her new college, Abbott enrolled in a category at Falmouth Excessive College referred to as “Cape Cod Atmosphere” that targeted on horticulture, forestry, landscaping and geomorphology. 

“It was once I was taking that class that I noticed that that is what I wished to do,” she says. A line beneath her yearbook photograph underscored her life aim: to “save a tree.”

Kathy Abbott’s highway to CEO wasn’t simple

Now at age 66, Abbott is the primary president and CEO of Boston Harbor Now. Created in 2016, Boston Harbor Now is a merger of two nonprofit organizations—Boston Harbor Island Alliance and Boston Harbor Affiliation. Because the chief of the brand new civic nonprofit, Abbott oversees the Boston Harbor waterfront and the Boston Harbor Islands Nationwide and State Park.

Though she’s now a profitable CEO, the highway to get there was lengthy and bumpy. Abbott says she skilled discrimination on “a number of fronts” as an brazenly homosexual girl working in male-dominated conservative organizations. 

Her first encounter with discrimination occurred after her sophomore yr in school, when she tried to get a summer time job working for the Division of Public Works (DPW) in Falmouth. As a substitute of permitting her to use for a job, the DPW director stated to her, “We solely rent boys from the soccer crew,” and urged she “stroll throughout the road and go get a job on the recreation division as a result of that’s the place the ladies go.” 

Abbott felt the complete sting of that rejection. “I’ll always remember that quote,” she says. “I used to be gobsmacked that someone would say that.”

Previous to making use of, she had a five-week internship place as a laborer working for the Nationwide Park Service on the Minute Man in Harmony, Massachusetts. “Fortunately, I already had a job within the area, so I didn’t really feel completely annihilated,” she says. She heeded the DPW director’s recommendation and obtained a job managing the playground on the Falmouth Recreation Division. The job was a blast, nevertheless it wasn’t sufficient.

So Abbott locked in two different jobs that summer time—one as a supervisor of an area pool and the opposite because the forewoman of a panorama crew that additionally managed a greenhouse. “I’d have slightly labored for the park division, however that was an important summer time,” she remembers.

Working her means up

Abbott’s first place for the Boston Harbor Islands was an internship as a park ranger for Gallops Island throughout her undergraduate program at College of Massachusetts (UMASS) in Amherst. “I did every thing from selecting up the trash on the seaside each morning to giving talks and walks,” she says. Her job was a mixture of training individuals who visited the island together with imposing the rules. “ It was an important expertise, and I beloved it,” she says.

After graduating school, she labored as a park planner for the Boston Harbor Islands for 10 years. To additional her schooling, she acquired a grasp’s diploma in public administration from Harvard College. It was then that she had a “Goldilocks” epiphany when attempting to determine what kind of environmental authorities company she wished to work for. 

“Nationwide parks are too huge. I’d by no means be capable of make an impression or get wherever, and clearly, municipal parks had been too small. State parks had been going to be excellent,” she explains. 

In 1991, Michael Dukakis was on his means out as governor of Massachusetts. It was an financial catastrophe, and with funding for presidency applications in flux, Abbott’s twin function because the assistant secretary and deputy commissioner for the Massachusetts Division of Environmental Administration (DEM) wasn’t going properly. “I believed—this was how naive I used to be—as a result of I grew up there that I’d be the perfect individual to tackle this horrible activity, not realizing what a private toll that might take. It was brutal,” she says. 

After virtually two years in that twin function, Abbott weighed her choices. “I’m a giant believer that everyone ought to work in each sector. It makes you far more efficient and in a position to work with one another,” she explains. “I actually wished to strive nonprofits.”

Ardour pays off

The following cease in her profession journey was as vice chairman of applications for The College for Area Research in Beverly, Massachusetts, a global examine overseas program. “I hadn’t grown up with any cash. So I hadn’t actually traveled a lot in any respect,” she explains. “I obtained to see the world for about 5 years operating round managing crises, as a result of that’s what we’re doing—managing 1000’s of school age college students in distant, extremely thrilling locations.”

Though Abbott beloved touring, she felt the urge to return working with the setting. “I simply missed having an area impression. I grew up doing that, and I actually missed it,” she says. 

When the Boston Harbor Islands turned a nationwide park in 1996, the group wanted somebody to supervise it. Abbott stepped in as the primary president and CEO of the Island Alliance.

After six years within the place, Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration recruited Abbott to create a brand new group referred to as Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which might handle the state parks in Massachusetts. “I ended up with this historical past of mergers, startups and turnarounds,” she says. “Not for the faint of coronary heart.”

Certainly, issues would quickly turn into tougher. 

Going through discrimination

After homosexual marriage turned authorized in Massachusetts on November 18, 2003, Abbott married her companion of six years—a transfer “the Romney administration wasn’t actually comfortable about,” she says.

Nothing was overtly stated to Abbott about her new marriage, however she observed refined modifications in how she was handled after her wedding ceremony announcement appeared within the newspapers. 

Regardless of Abbott being within the prime 10% of state staff, Romney requested her to resign on account of poor snow removing of the parkway. Though she sensed one thing like this may occur, she nonetheless wasn’t ready for it. 

“It was the perfect job I ever had. I beloved it to items, and I’d most likely nonetheless be there if issues had gone in a different way,” she says.

Romney quickly started operating for president of the US, which sophisticated Abbott’s seek for a brand new job. When she interviewed for positions, her interviewers requested why she resigned. “No person needs to rent you to be their CEO if you happen to may need been fired by the [potential] subsequent president of the US,” she says.

Regardless of these challenges, Abbott believes the expertise formed her. “I’ve completely no regrets, regardless of the impacts that it had on my profession, as a result of it taught me how necessary it’s not to outline your self,” she says.

Kathy Abbott turns into Boston Harbor Now’s president and CEO

She ultimately obtained a job at Tower Hill Botanic Backyard in Massachusetts and created a number of new applications that greater than doubled the variety of annual guests. All of the whereas, she stored receiving calls asking her to simply accept the function as president and CEO of the newly fashioned Boston Harbor Now. Regardless of responding “no” the primary few occasions, she ultimately agreed. 

Abbott says one among her targets as CEO is “to assist folks perceive their impression on nature and nature’s impression on them.” She hopes the folks in Boston will acknowledge the way in which the setting contributes to their social, environmental and financial well being, and one among her most necessary targets is ensuring all people has entry to these advantages. 

Even because the CEO, she nonetheless goes again to her roots as a park ranger when vital. “The No. 1 means folks fee their park experiences is by the cleanliness of the loos,” she says. So when she not too long ago noticed a unclean toilet throughout one among her journeys, she grabbed a brush and sponge and went to work.

That will sound shocking, nevertheless it all comes naturally when ardour is at play. Abbott concurs. “Determine what you’re feeling keen about, and pursue it as a result of issues will come to you,” she says. They actually have for her.

Picture by Arlan Fonseca for Boston Harbor Now.

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