|Birth: ||Sep. 28, 1919|
|Death: ||Nov. 3, 1995|
Dr. R. Tucker Abbott, the master of mollusks who was better known as Mr. Seashell, died on Friday at his home on Sanibel Island, Fla., where he was director of the new Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. He was 77 and also lived in Melbourne, Fla.
Museum officials said the cause was a stroke.
In a career that included scholarly stints at the Smithsonian Institution, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington, Dr. Abbott turned out his share of learned books and authoritative papers.
And while ranging the world from Samoa to Zanzibar, wading rice paddies in China and scouring shorelines on Fiji or the Philippines, he personally discovered some 1,000 of the estimated 100,000 species of mollusks, the soft-bodied invertebrates that are the malacologist's stock in trade.
The work earned him a world reputation among fellow scientists. But for all his intimate knowledge of clams, conchs, oysters, snails, squids and slugs, it was his special weakness for mollusks' delicately shaped, multicolored shells that brought Dr. Abbott fame.
His definitive guide, "American Sea Shells," first published in the 1954, has been credited with turning a casual hobby into an organized mania, one that Dr. Abbott did his best to satisfy through an outpouring of some 30 follow-up books, ranging from pocket-size field guides to coffee-table tomes.
He found the demand for seashell books so insatiable that he left the Delaware museum in 1977 and moved to Melbourne to form his own publishing company, American Malacologists Inc., now operated by his daughter, Cynthia Sullivan, in Andover, Mass.
Dr. Abbott, who shared his readers' awe at the beauties of nature, traced his interest in science to the time he first picked up a shell, on a beach on Cape Cod when he was 4 years old.
By the time he was a teen-ager, Dr. Abbott, a native of Lynn, Mass., who spent his high school years in Montreal, was such a rabid collector that he and a friend opened a science museum in his basement. "I was curator of botany, birds and shells," he once told an interviewer, recalling that he and his friend had pedaled 2,000 miles on a collecting expedition.
He returned home so determined to become a malacologist, he said, that even though he had flunked ninth grade, he buckled down and made it into Harvard.
There, the malacologist William J. Clench became his mentor and sent him on to the Smithsonian in Washington. He eventually received his master's degree and doctorate from George Washington University.
By then, however, Dr. Abbott had already established a successful malacology research station -- on Guam, where his work was instrumental in stemming an outbreak of a parasitic disease traced to snails during World War II.
Since 1989, Dr. Abbott, inevitably wearing sneakers and a seashell print shirt and frequently entangled in the two pairs of glasses he wore around his neck, had become a familiar figure on the beaches of Sanibel, the barrier island near Fort Myers known as a treasure trove of shells.
The museum that he helped organize and stock with two million shells representing 20,000 species of mollusks is scheduled to open there on Nov. 18.
In addition to his daughter, of Wilmington, Mass., Dr. Abbott, who was married three times, is survived by his wife, Cecilia; two other children from his first marriage, Robert Jr. of San Diego and Carolyn Palmer of Nutting Lake, Mass.; three stepchildren from his third marriage, Cheryl Nelson of Ocean Shores, Wash., Jonna Robson of Melbourne and Erika Vonder Heyden of Benecia, Calif., and five grandchildren.
--Published in The New York Times on Nov. 9 1995
Mary Madeline Sisler Abbott (1923 - 1964)*
Cecelia Ruth White Abbott (1936 - 2010)*
Arlington National Cemetery
Plot: Section 35, Site 1886
Maintained by: K
Originally Created by: Earl Alexander
Record added: Mar 30, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 25635006