Retiree Abbott reflects on 55 years at UMaine

Posted June 02, 2010, at 1:30 a.m.
Walter Abbott, former UMaine AD. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY MICHAEL C. YORK (1991)
Walter Abbott, former UMaine AD. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY MICHAEL C. YORK (1991)

Walter (pronounced WALT-ah in Maine dialect) Abbott is the consummate Mainer.

Rugged, honest, genuine, good-hearted, hardworking and the possessor of a quick wit, the 73-year-old Abbott is an icon at the University of Maine.

Abbott recently retired after spending 55 years in a variety of capacities at the institution, including football standout, student assistant coach, head coach, athletic director, professor and director of the outdoor leadership program.

The outdoor leadership program takes students on one- to two-week junkets down the East Branch of the Penobscot River to a camp in Stacyville. They learn how to canoe and survive in the woods.

For some, it was their first experience in the woods.

“[Former Black Bear running back] Ben Sirmans told me he had never seen two trees side by side before,” chuckled Abbott, a Rumford native and avid outdoorsman.

He taught the course for 30 years and still hears from grateful former students.

“I had some amazing leaders who were developed in the program [and became his teaching assistants],” said Abbott.

He admits that he “hated” to retire but said, “It’s time to get some new blood in there. You want to go out at the peak of your game. Carol and I have things to do. We’re still young kids and we want to enjoy it.”

The former Carol Stevenson, of Reading, Mass., is Abbott’s wife of 50 years and the mother of their three children, Steve, Scott and Sherry.

Steve Abbott is a Maine gubernatorial candidate.

Walt Abbott was a former three-sport standout at Stephens High School in Rumford.

“Some thought baseball was my best sport. But you can’t hit people in baseball,” quipped Abbott, who grew up on a farm with his folks and two brothers.

“I loved every minute of it. From second grade on, I would get up at 4:15 and milk the cows before going to school,” he said.

He followed in his father Warren’s footsteps to Orono. Warren Abbott played basketball at Maine. Like his dad, he has also been a Maine guide.

Walt Abbott was a hard-hitting offensive guard-linebacker at Maine. When he became the head football coach in 1967, his coaching philosophy matched his personality.

They never had athletic scholarships so Abbott compensated by preaching work ethic, fundamentals and hard-nosed football.

After you played a Walt Abbott-coached team, you spent a lot of time wearing ice bags over the next few days.

He went 27-53 overall in nine years and tied for first in the Yankee Conference in 1974.

“I had some real good kids. They played with an awful lot of heart,” said Abbott.

He can’t pinpoint one particular highlight because he’d rather focus on the overall experience.

“In looking back, the one common denominator is the people haven’t changed. They get here and fall in love with the university. They turn out to be productive and successful. The university should be very proud of the type of people they have turned out over the years. We have great kids here who have been wonderful to work with whether they were athletes or not.

“An amazing number have gone on to be successful football coaches at all levels. And they have stayed in touch,” he said.

Abbott will always have Maine football in his blood. He is proud of the number of NFL players produced by the school, crediting “hard work and discipline” for making it possible. He will again work with George Hale on Bear football telecasts.

Not surprisingly, he plans to spend some of his retirement “helping people.”

Happy retirement Walt-ah.

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