Isabella Abbott straddled two worlds and excelled in both, mentoring and inspiring generations of scientists and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners.
The world-renowned algae taxonomist and ethnobotanist “loved her people,” said Hi’ilei Kawelo, director of Paepae O He’eia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for Heeia Fishpond. “She loved her culture, but she also excelled at it through Western science. She’s someone to look up to (who showed us) that we can do both. We can exist and practice our culture, but also develop this love of science.”
The retired University of Hawaii at Manoa ethnobotany professor remained a resource to many in the scientific and native Hawaiian cultural community until her death Thursday, while surrounded by friends and family. She was 91.
A longtime member of the board of directors of the Bishop Museum, Abbott wrote more than 150 research papers and eight books.
“We always saw her as the Energizer Bunny,” said Allen Allison, Bishop Museum vice president. “She just lit up every room that she was in.”
Born in Hana, Maui, and reared in Honolulu, Abbott got her first limu lessons under her Hawaiian mother’s tutelage, and went on to become the foremost expert on Central Pacific algae.