Ethan D.B. Abbott ’72

Leif Aaron Tabernero

Each year, the Punahou Alumni Association recognizes individuals who are dedicated to improving the lives of others through service and contribution to the communities of Punahou, Hawai‘i and beyond. Their achievements are an inspiration to the Punahou community.

Other awardees for this year include Bruce and Lita Thompson ’68 Blankenfeld, Emeritus Imu Gang, Pamela Hamamoto ’78, Lynn Kimura ’81 Kunishige, Larry Langley ’68, Barb Young ’67 Morgan, Kazumi Ogawa ’86 and David W. Pratt ’53.

“O” in Life

This award honors an individual who exemplifies the ideals of service to Punahou and the community. Created in 1954, the “O” in Life is the Punahou Alumni Association’s most prestigious award.

Ethan Abbott ’72 coined the phrase “Punahou – Kindergarten through Life” to describe an alumnus’ ongoing connection to the School even beyond graduation. That certainly describes his own experience as a student, alumnus, parent, trustee and member of the O-Men and Punahou Alumni Association.

This year, as Abbott celebrates 30 years on the Punahou Board of Trustees, Punahou Alumni Association honors him with its most prestigious honor, the “O” in Life.

“He must have been one of the youngest trustees ever appointed, which gives him longevity and perspective,” said President Jim Scott ’70. “He’s seen the School’s 150th celebration and the 175th celebration. He has also witnessed two presidential searches, which few trustees have.”

During Abbott’s tenure thus far, which has included two chairmanships, the physical landscape of Punahou has changed, as has its student body. Abbott led fundraising for the renovation of Dillingham Hall. Wo International Center was added in 1993 and the entire Junior School was essentially rebuilt. The Board and President Scott have made economic diversity of the student body a priority and have invested in the professional development of faculty.

“Ethan’s got a vision, and he stays with it,” said Scott.

In 2009, with President Barack Obama ’79 in his first year in office, Abbott set a goal to hold a trustee meeting at the White House. For a year, he worked closely with White House staff.

“We had no promises,” recalls Scott, but “Ethan’s hope was that President Obama would show up, and I think until the last minute, he had hope.” A presidential visit wasn’t to be, as a political emergency flared, and Obama was whisked away. But the group did get a visit from Vice President Biden, who spent significant time with the trustees discussing national educational issues.

At the annual Flaming “P” ceremony during Punahou’s 175th year in 2015, Abbott, who served as chair of the celebration, surprised the crowd with a stunning display of fireworks behind Dole Hall. “Somehow Ethan pulled it off,” said fellow trustee Wendy Crabb. “It was a moment of awe, and he made it all possible.”

Abbott, an attorney and financial planner, hails from a kama‘aina family with strong connections to Punahou. He is number six of seven siblings who attended Punahou from 1956 to 1976, Paula ’60 Rounds, Willa ’62 Romanchak, Margo ’65 Rowland, Sandy ’67, Tom ’70 and Lyman ’76. His mother, Paula, also taught at Punahou for 25 years.

“It was really a wonderful opportunity as an Abbott sibling to know a lot of people in all those classes,” Abbott reflected as he accepted the “O” in Life Award in May. “We have a beautiful campus, a new grades 2 – 5 community, the Lily Pond and many other world-class facilities. All those are wonderful facets of a great school, but really the most important part of a school are the relationships with people that you meet as you walk through your life with Punahou.”

In high school, Abbott was a three-sport athlete. The 1972 4x800 track record set by Abbott, Tim Witchey ’73, Charles King ’72 and Henry Marsh ’72 still stands. Abbott served as senior class president, foreshadowing his future school leadership.

Punahou was also where he met his wife, Jean Dillingham ’72 Abbott. The couple have three children, Christopher ’99, Megan Abbott ’02 Joswick and Eric ’06, and two grandchildren, Abigail and Avery Joswick. An avid beekeeper, Abbott helped Punahou build its first apiary on Rocky Hill.

“It’s all about the friendships, the lasting personal memories,” said Abbott. “A great school like Punahou, it takes your hand, it opens your mind and it touches your heart.”

Several previous recipients of the “O” in Life award were present at Abbott’s celebration. From left, front row: David Fairbanks ’58, Dennis Hirota ’58, Ethan Abbott ’72, Dick Cox ’38 and Pal Eldredge ’64. Back row: Doug Kilpatrick ’57, Scott May ’56, Bob Akinaka ’59 and Warren Luke ’62.
Trustee Mike Pietsch ’64 and Trustee Emeritus David Fairbanks ’58 congratulate Trustee Ethan Abbott ’72 at the 2018 “O” in Life luncheon at the President’s Pavilion.