TENANTS HARBOR - Louis Wellington Cabot died on Friday, January 29, 2021, at his home in Tenants Harbor, Maine. He was a man to whom much was given, and who gave back in full measure. He was a successful businessman, but that was just the beginning.
He was born August 3, 1921, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Thomas Dudley Cabot, and Virginia Wellington Cabot. From his father and grandfather, the industrialists Tom and Godfrey L. Cabot, he took the Yankee values of enterprise, pragmatism, moral rectitude, and social responsibility. But these men were also maverick businessmen who cut their teeth in the hardscrabble oilfields of Pennsylvania and Texas, and they were curious, adventurous, and forward-looking.
From his mother, he took a deep and abiding love of family, of music, and of nature, and he also inherited her subtle, generous sense of humor and her deep inner grace. And he absorbed the lesson that, of all his ambitions and achievements, it was people that mattered.
He attended Meadowbrook School in Weston and Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, and also the Fountain Valley School in Colorado. At Harvard University, he first studied to be research chemist under the guidance of George Kistiakowski, who would later become one of the developers of the atomic bomb. But after a summer’s infatuation with flying, he changed his major to engineering.
When World War II broke out, he followed this penchant into the Navy, as an aeronautical engineer in the Navy’s V-7 program, in which he continued his studies at Cal Tech, while he repaired aircraft damaged in the Pacific theater and worked to improve their designs.
After graduating from Harvard Business School near the top of his class, Louis went to work in the family business, Godfrey L. Cabot Inc., as a laborer in a carbon black plant near Pampa, Texas. At the age of 27, he spearheaded the company’s first international venture, to build a carbon-black plant in Stanlow, England. He set sail in November of 1948, by June of 1949 he’d broken ground on construction, and he’d had it up and running in a year. It was the first carbon black plant in all of Europe, and America’s first foray into Europe under the Marshall Plan.
In 1951, he came home to Boston and became company treasurer. He put his business school training to work rationalizing the company’s financial systems.
On November 1, 1960, he became President, embarking on a new wave of diversification and globalization. He took the Company public in 1967, and got it listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1969, he became Chairman of the Board. He put his mark on company culture, with his open, collaborative management style, and employees remember fondly the personal relationships he forged with all the people he worked with.
But he also delivered results.
From the time he came on in 1948 until he retired in 1986, the company’s annual sales had gone from $27 million to $1.4 billion, and it had become a positive force in all the communities of which it became a part. His acumen and wisdom were valued well beyond Cabot.
In the private sector, he served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (1975-78); and on the Board of Directors for the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Wang Laboratories, the Penn Central Railroad, Arthur D. Little, Inc., and the New England Merchants National Bank.
In the public sector he was a member of the Defense Secretary's Realignment and Closure Commission (1988); a member of the President's Blue-Ribbon Commission on Defense Management (1985); Chairman of the Sloan Commission on Government and Higher Education (1977-80); Vice Chairman of U.S. Chamber of Commerce (1984-85); and Chairman of the Council for Financial Aid to Education (1983-86).
In 1961, he made a speech before the World Affairs Council, in which he said, “A free society needs the full-time support of all its members. We as a nation have been willing to work hard for OUR economic welfare. We have sacrificed much for OUR political freedom. We have yet to show how hard we would work and how much we would sacrifice for other kinds of progress, perhaps non-economic or nonpolitical, and of which we would not be the primary beneficiaries. The implications of these questions may be the challenge of our survival. They certainly will be the test of the basic quality of our society.” These are words Louis lived by.
While at the helm of Cabot Corporation, he also helped steer Beverly Hospital through the rigors of modernization in the 1960’s, and worked to mobilizing business executives to train and hire minorities in the 1970’s. But after he retired from Cabot in 1986, he embarked on a full-time career of service. From 1986 to 1992, he was Chairman of the Brookings Institution, a community of scholars dedicated to shedding clear, undistorted light on issues of public policy.
He also served on the board of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, both from an environmental concern and from a life-long love of the sea. And he served passionately on the Board of Conservation International, an organization dedicated to preserving bio-diversity by enabling people to prosper in harmony with their ecosystems.
He also served as Co-Chairman of the Presidents' Circle of the National Academy of Sciences (1992-95), as a trustee of Northeastern University, the Island Institute, and the Cabot Family Charitable Trust. He served as Chairman of the Virginia Wellington Cabot Foundation; a Fellow and Vice President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Chairman of the Academy’s Trust; an Honorary Life Member of the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University (1970-76). He was also a Member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma XI.
He is survived by his present wife, Mabel Brandon Cabot; and his first wife, Mary Louise Cabot; by his five natural children, James Bass Cabot, Anne Cabot Alletzhauser, Mithran Godfrey Cabot, Amanda Cabot, and Helen Cabot McCarthy; and by numerous grandchildren, adopted children, and step-children. Mr Cabot is also survived by his brother Robert M. Cabot of Seattle, Washington, sister Linda C. Black of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and sister-in-laws Betsy W. Cabot of Belmont, Massachusetts and Mary M. Cabot of Naples, Florida. He was preceded in death by his brothers Thomas and Edmund.