American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Tom Cabot, 1897-1995

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

TOM CABOT 1897-1995

Tom Cabot had been a member of the AAC since 1924, distinguishing him as our oldest living member at the time of his death on October 9, 1995.

In the late 1960s, I met Tom in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine, where he and his wife, Virginia, sailed and gunk-holed most summers. After just a short time on board his boat, it was easy to tell how he got his reputation as a doer, straight-forward thinker, and generally competent outdoors- man. I saw him many times thereafter, including monthly Harvard Traveller’s Club meetings in Boston. My father-in-law, who brought me into that club and who was his first cousin, gave me Tom’s autobiography, Beggar on Horseback, to read in 1979. In 1980, I went to him to ask for money for an expedition to China. I used the approach he discussed in his own book: know your cause, explain it clearly, expect to be questioned, and then ask for the gift. That was when I learned that he felt the mountains had taken too many of his friends, and as a result, his interest in climbing had ended — including the support of expeditions.

Early on, Tom was known mostly for his accomplishments as an industrialist. Upon graduating from Harvard, he built a small company in West Virginia started by his father into the world’s largest producer of a much needed product: carbon black. He went on to become an industrial consultant to our government’s State Department. But he soon became even better known as a philanthropist and conservationist, both of which gave him his greatest pride. Through it all, he was an avid horseback rider, skier, canoeist, and sailor. His mountain and exploration experiences, too numerous to list, included the Selkirks and Assiniboine, the Alps, Mexico’s volcanoes, Patagonia, and an expedition to Columbia in the 1930s to explore and map the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

His benevolence will be felt by the Cabot Conservation Fund, and by those who are recipients of monies from the Virginia Wellington Cabot Fund at Radcliffe, set up in honor of his wife. His unbridled energy will be remembered by many and carried on, especially considering that among his living relatives are 29 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

Jed Williamson

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