OMAHA — Betty Abbott, the first woman to serve on Omaha’s city council and a founding member of the Henry Doorly Zoo’s board of directors, died Sunday of pneumonia at the age of 82.
Abbott was the first woman to join the council when she was elected in 1965. She served for 12 years before forgoing re-election to make a run for mayor. She lost to Al Veys in the 1977 general election.
She wasn’t intimidated being the only woman on a panel with six men, said former mayor and councilman Bob Cunningham.
“She was one of the boys,” Cunningham said. “She was the type of person who would stand her ground.”
Abbott’s role as a founding member of the zoo’s board of directors helped the popular Omaha attraction eventually garner national recognition.
Abbott, a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, also helped start revitalization efforts for Omaha’s downtown, said her daughter, Diana Abbott, of Omaha. Her strict zoning views helped keep midtown residential neighborhoods intact, her daughter said.
In 1975, Abbott was elected to lead the League of Nebraska Municipalities. Her other roles included serving on the board of directors of the National League of Cities and as president of the Nebraska Environmental Control Council. President Gerald Ford appointed her to serve on the Defense Department’s commission on women.
A smoker, Abbott had been diagnosed with lung cancer in July but X-rays indicated several weeks ago that she was free of the cancer, Diana Abbott said. But doctors found blood clots in her legs and fluid in her lungs when she was hospitalized on Friday, she said.
A memorial service was scheduled for Friday at Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak-Cutler West Center Chapel. Other survivors include a daughter, Gwen Abbott, of Columbus, Ohio, and three grandchildren.