USD Grieves Death of First Lady Colette Abbott

Colette Abbott Colette Abbott

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Colette M. Abbott, wife of University of South Dakota President James W. Abbott, died suddenly Wednesday at their home in Vermillion. She was 59. USD's first lady was diagnosed with cancer last week and was awaiting surgery. Final arrangements are pending.

Colette Pugh grew up in Pierre, South Dakota, and attended USD. She married James W. Abbott in 1987. They have three adult daughters and two grandchildren. He became USD president in 1997. As first lady, she hosted people at the president’s house and joined him at numerous university events.

She was also active in numerous local and statewide community organizations, including the Children’s Home Society, Children’s Home Foundation, South Dakota Community Foundation, National Music Museum, Farber Fund Board and South Dakota Symphony. 

“I first met Colette Abbott 25 years ago when she and Jim hosted a fundraiser for Children’s Home Society," said South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a former development director and executive director of the society. "She and Jim continued their support over the years and Colette joined the board and was an advocate for abused and neglected children and battered women. Linda and I were shocked and saddened to learn of the loss of this great South Dakota woman. Her family will be in our thoughts and prayers.”

Colette Abbott was also an an avid runner and founded South Dakota’s first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in 2008 at the DakotaDome. The series of runs and fitness raises money and awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

“Colette was so much a part of USD,” said Jim Moran, USD provost and vice president for academic affairs. "We always took notice of her enthusiasm that helped make each event she attended so special. We remember her as a solid basis of support, not just for President Abbott, but for each and every one of us whose lives she touched. We will remember her cheering at the basketball games, her greeting students at the late-night finals week breakfast, and her welcoming smile at all of the presidential functions she hosted. USD will not quite be the same for a time, but for now we focus on our sympathy and prayers for President Abbott and his family.”


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 205 undergraduate and 73 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 17:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 17 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Michael Ewald
USD News