Former Whittier City Manager N. Keith Abbott, who assisted turn a blighted cemetery into a park during his time in office, has died at the age of 96.
A memorial service will be held later for Abbott, a Whittier resident, who died on May 24,
He worked for the city of Whittier for 24 years, including the last 13 as city manager, coming to town in 1956 as city controller.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Bob Henderson, whose first eight years on the City Council overlapped with Abbot’s time, said.
“He was really a good man,” Henderson said. “He was the tightest city manager we ever had, He was fiscally on top of it all the time.”
Henderson too credited him with reforming the Police Department and bringing in Jim Bale, who served as police chief from 1967-90.
During his time as city manager, Abbott assisted create Whittier’s Founders Park, which includes two former cemeteries dating back to 1888 (Mount Olive) and 1902 (Broadway).
In 1953, the city refused to allow any more burials, determining that they were detrimental to the public.
In 1974 Abbott, was tasked with finding relatives of the people buried there and seeing if they wanted to move the bodies, his wife, Paula, said,
Only between six to 12 people actually had the bodies moved, Abbott said in a 2015 interview, As a result, there remain more than 2,400 bodies buried at the park.
Abbott was born in St. George, Utah, and grew up in Bunkerville, Nevada, according to information supplied by his wife.
He joined the Navy in April 1943. He served as a radar technician on a destroyer escort, mainly in the South Pacific. He was one of seven survivors of the sinking of the USS Monaghan during a typhoon off the Philipine Islands in December 1944. He survived 72 hours in the Pacific before being rescued.
After the Navy, he attended Utah State University in Logan on the GI Bill. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in business administration from Utah State University,
Immediately after graduation he moved to California and worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sunray Oil and North American Aviation before coming to Whittier.
He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Paula, daughters Sherran Hawkins of Yucaipa, Jeanne Johnson of Glendale, Ariz., Teri Watson of Newport Beach, Kathleen Abbott of St. George, Utah; step-daughters Lisa Allen of Whittier, Ann Marie Pena of La Mirada, and Christy Zellerino of La Mirada.