Seaweed Wiz

March/April 2011

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Seaweed Wiz

Photo: Jennifer Crites/Courtesy of the University of Hawaii

Izzie Abbott's seaweed expertise ranged from the scientific to the savory. The professor emerita of biology wrote Marine Algae of California, a 1976 book that was described as "the definitive description of marine algae along the Pacific coast." And she was such a deft cook with seaweed that Gourmet magazine wrote about her in 1987.

Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona Abbott died at home in Honolulu, on Oct. 28. She was 91.

Born when the islands were still a U.S. territory, the young scholar earned a doctorate from UC-Berkeley. She and her husband, Don Abbott, moved to Pacific Grove, Calif., in 1950, when he joined the faculty at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. In that era, women with PhDs were scarce and faculty positions for them even scarcer. Izzie Abbott spent years raising the couple's daughter, Annie, and involving herself in the local community.

But she was hired as a lecturer in 1960, and after a dozen years her productiveness as a researcher and effectiveness as a teacher were so undeniable that she was made a full professor. In 1997, she was awarded the Gilbert Morgan Smith medal, the highest award in marine botany, from the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1982, the Abbotts moved to Hawaii, where Izzie was hired by the University of Hawaii and taught ethnobotany; her efforts were so successful that they led to development of an undergraduate major in the subject. A small book she wrote about limu, the Hawaiian word for seaweed, continues to sell. Of course, it included some recipes.

"I don't think she saw a line between her professional career and her hobbies. She was a terrific cook," says Celia Smith, PhD '83, a botany professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Instead of zucchini bread she would show up with a nereocystis cake. . . . It was delicious and usually disappeared in no time."

Abbott, whose husband died in 1986, is survived by her daughter, Annie Abbott Foerster; and a granddaughter.

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