Cecilia Vivian “Chita” Brun del Re Abbott, a prominent figure in Marin education circles in the 1980s and 1990s, died Sept. 14 after an 18-month battle with mesothelioma. She was 73.
The Marin County School Administrators Association named the Strawberry resident its Citizen of the Year in 1989 in recognition of her active role in parent-teacher associations and as an advocate for the educational rights of children with special needs.
Mrs. Abbott was spurred by her own experience as a mother. At age 1, her daughter Lauren had become deaf after contracting meningitis. Mrs. Abbott turned her attentions to advocating for her daughter and ensuring Lauren had access to all the educational opportunities available to other children.
Mrs. Abbott chaired four major fundraisers for her children’s schools in Mill Valley and served as president of the Mill Valley Council of Parent-Teacher Associations and the Tamalpais High School Parent-Teacher Association.
While on those boards, she served as representative of its health and welfare, community concerns and legislation committees.
In 1986, Mrs. Abbott organized and helped spearhead the Marin County coalition for the California Movement for Educational Reform, a statewide group that lobbied state legislators to provide more money for public education. In 1989, she was named to the Marin County Child, Adolescent and Parent Health board.
When Mrs. Abbott was named Citizen of the Year, Mill Valley School District Superintendent Pat McDonough said in an Ark interview: “In the years I have known Chita as a parent volunteer, she has directly motivated and inspired other parents to dedicate time and effort in both leadership roles and smaller commitments to better the Mill Valley School District, Marin County and the state.
“Her dedication to school state funding has inspired others to stay focused on the larger issues,” McDonogh said. “Cecilia Abbott’s strongest commitment is for quality and equal education for all children in the state of California.”
Mrs. Abbott also campaigned for Mill Valley’s Measure C parcel tax to provide more money for Mill Valley schools.
She was born April 3, 1945, to Italian immigrants in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore.
She was named the Maryland representative in the 1962 Miss High School America pageant before earning a bachelor’s in applied science and completing her registered-nurse training at the University of Maryland at College Park. She then moved to Washington, D.C., to become a surgical nurse at George Washington University Hospital, where she met her husband of 47 years, Richard L. Abbott, who was in medical school.
Married on the rim of the Grand Canyon, the two started their careers in Los Angeles and then moved to Gallup, N.M., to work for the Indian Public Health Service, which had put out a call for nurses and doctors on the Navajo Nation reservation.
After two years there, they moved to San Francisco. Her husband returned to the East Coast for further training, but they moved back to the Bay Area and bought a house in Strawberry in 1978.
Mrs. Abbott had two professional careers following her early nursing career.
For 25 years, she was a wardrobe stylist for Doncaster Designs at Tanner Companies. She had a studio in her home, where she did client fittings.
She also owned and operated a 55-bed facility, St. Raphael’s Home in Berkeley, for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In Strawberry, she raised funds for improved lighting and landscaping. She served on the board of The Redwoods senior community in Mill Valley from 1994 to 2000.
She was an early advocate of organic foods and sound nutrition, as well as a chemical-free environment, which became her passion.
She was active in the Marin County chapter of the World Organization for Rehabilitation and Training, a nonprofit Jewish organization that promotes education and training globally.
Despite having been raised with different religious traditions — she was raised as a Catholic and her husband Jewish — she shared with her husband an open-mindedness and ecumenical philosophy about the world.
“If you asked Chita about religion, she would say, ‘Really, I’m everything,’” Richard Abbott said.
“She was beautiful and graceful, inside and out,” he said.
In addition to her husband, Richard Abbott of Strawberry, and daughter Lauren Maucere of Burbank, Mrs. Abbott is survived by son Galen Abbott of San Francisco, daughter Alison Chassin of Amsterdam and her five grandchildren, Daniela, Gianni, Elle, Ethan and Andrew.
A celebration of her life is planned for late October. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Cecilia B. Abbott Environmental Fund, established by her family to continue advocating for healthy living through organic foods and a chemical-free environment, via gofundme.com/cecilia-b-abbott-environmental-fund.