WABASHA — "He was a little more saintly than I was," Phil Perry says of his friend James Abbott. "He touched so many people and had such a gracious touch."
Abbott, owner of Abbott Funeral Home and Crematorium in Wabasha, and a prominent figure in the business and civic community of Wabasha, died of brain cancer Thursday at his home. He was 67.
Born in Minneapolis, Abbott moved to Wabasha when he was 7 years old, graduating from Wabasha High School in 1971. After college, he worked at a pair of funeral homes before moving back home where he purchased his father's funeral home business and furniture store.
But aside from being a business owner in town, Abbott worked hard to support the business community and civic organizations around town, serving on the St.Felix Parish Council, the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center board of directors, the Wabasha Economic Development Authority, and as a member of the City Street Commission and Long Range Planning Committee.
A member of the Wabasha Rotary Club and Kellogg Lions Club, he also volunteered in the restoration of the Coffee Mill Golf Course, as golfing was a passion of his.
"He always wanted to build community," said Mary Flicek, president and director of the Wabasha Main Street organization. "He was more about building community than bringing visitors to town."
If there was a fundraiser, pancake breakfast or community event, "Jim was there," she said.
John Hust, a longtime friend and church colleague, echoed that thought.
"There’s probably no more pro-Wabasha person than Jim Abbott," Hust said, adding that the Abbott family, led by Jim and, earlier, his father Jake Abbott, ran a booth at the St. Felix Fall Festival each year to raise money for the school and church.
The pair also started the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration in Wabasha, a town that – according to Perry – is mostly of German descent. But Jim Abbott, who was 100 percent Irish-American, would gladly accept anyone with even a little Irish in them as a member of his ancestral country.
"If someone had a quarter Irish in them, they were Irish to Jim," Perry said. "And he was typically Irish with his bubbly personality."
Hust said perhaps the biggest gift his friend gave to the community was his ability to listen and help as families deal with the death of a loved one.
"He really cared about the people, the families that were suffering," said Hust, who, as a deacon at St. Felix Catholic Church, was often on hand as Jim helped people through the most difficult moments of their lives. "He was always such a calm, listening person. Some people are made to be athletes. He was made for helping people in those distressing times."
Flicek said Jim often lived by the principle that every time you give, you get back tenfold, which is what made Jim such a tireless supporter of his community.
"It’s kind of what we all try to do," Flicek said. "But Jim did it with joy and a smile on his face. He was a very kind man."
A private family funeral Mass will be at St. Felix Catholic Church, the Rev. Glenn Frerichs officiating and attended by Deacon John Hust. Go to www.abbottfh.com beginning 8 a.m. Wednesday for information about remotely attending the funeral Mass.