B.A., Denison University, 1974
M.S., Columbia University, 1975
J.D., Harvard University, 1982
Citation awarded June, 2010
A little more than three years as reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland was enough to convince David that he wanted a career involving direct engagement and advocacy and that he wanted to pursue that career in Cleveland. After acquiring his law degree, he returned there and spent 10 years in county government, including more than eight as the County Administrator. He oversaw a wide range of county services and played an instrumental role in the creation of the Gateway project, which includes the baseball park and basketball arena.
From 1993-97, he was executive director of the Cleveland Bicentennial Commission and led a multimillion-dollar celebration that included several major events, the dramatic lighting of downtown bridges, new city housing developments, the opening of the Great Lakes Science Center and the debut of RTA’s Waterfront Line service.
To this day, David has remained a gifted, determined civic entrepreneur whose vision and passion for all things Cleveland is legend. At the conclusion of the Bicentennial, he served as director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum and then took on the presidency of University Circle, Inc. This $30+ million organization has the mission to improve the University Circle neighborhood, widely recognized as the cultural, educational and healthcare center of Cleveland. David says his greatest accomplishment at UCI was the development of a master plan for the area, which is home to 45 institutions, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western Reserve Historical University, and University Hospitals.
A nationwide search resulted in David’s appointment as president of the Gund Foundation, Ohio’s largest private foundation in 2003. David saw the Gund post as a unique opportunity with a high-impact organization whose philanthropies—including Northeast Ohio non-profits serving education, community development, the arts, and the environment—mirrored the issues and institutions he himself had cared about for years. After just a year at Gund, David was named to the “Power 100” in metro Cleveland by Inside Business.
David remains very active in his community. In March 2008, he was elected chair of the Fund for Our Economc Future, a collaborative effort that unites philanthropy in Northeast Ohio to help strengthen the region’s economic competitiveness. In 2009, he received the Richard A. Shatten Leadership Award, recognizing his commitment to the profession of improving Cleveland’s civic infrastructure. Over the years he has held many volunteer posts of high responsibility such as on the boards of Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the Holden Parks Trust, Hawken School, Near West Theatre, Cleveland Arts Prize, Leadership Cleveland, Doan Brook Watershed Partnership, East Cleveland Parks Commission, the Audit Committee of the City of Cleveland, and the Visiting Committee of Hiram College.
For Denison, David has been both a fundraising and DART volunteer, and was a well-received guest panelist for LeaderShape, a student-leadership training program.
We honor David Abbott ’74 for his unabashed love of Cleveland and his dedicated
determination to make the city all it can be, proving that one person can, indeed, make a difference.