Spencer Abbot (WHF 2015-16): 1973-2017
Spencer Abbot of the WHF Class of 2015-16 died on November 15, 2017.
Spencer’s family prepared the following words in celebration of his life. Also included below are remembrances from several of Spencer’s WHF Classmates. CAPT Charles Spencer Abbot, USN, died on November 15, 2017. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 18, 1973, the eldest son of ADM Charles Stevenson Abbot, USN, Retired, and Marjorie Sellars Abbot.
A fourth generation Naval officer, Spencer graduated from Hampton Roads Academy in 1991 and the Naval Academy in 1995, where he served as Brigade Commander and Plebe Summer Regimental Commander. He subsequently earned a Master’s Degree and PhD in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and an Executive MBA, taken in Spanish, from Instituto de Empresa in Madrid.
Spencer completed Navy flight training in 2000 and F/A-18C Fleet Replacement Squadron training in 2001, receiving awards for graduating with the highest grades of the year for both programs. He then joined the VFA-15 “Valions” and flew combat missions at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He joined the VFA-37 “Ragin’ Bulls” for his department head tour and was selected among all Navy pilots for the 2008 Order of Daedalians Exceptional Pilot Award following combat operations in Iraq. In his last aviation tour, Spencer served as Commanding Officer of the VFA-27 “Royal Maces” in Atsugi, Japan, where his squadron earned the “Battle E” award as the top F/A-18E/F squadron in the Pacific Fleet for 2014.
In his first shore assignment, Spencer served as an EF-18 exchange pilot with the Spanish Air Force. He later served as an interagency representative for U.S. Southern Command at USAID and worked in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. He also served as an International Affairs Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations in Tokyo and coordinated with the Japanese government following the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Spencer earned a White House Fellowship in 2015 and served at the State Department, where he worked on issues related to Latin America and the East Asia-Pacific. He then worked with the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until the fall of 2017 as a Special Assistant.
Spencer’s military awards include the Air Medal (four Strike/Flight awards), the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal (two awards), and numerous other personal and unit awards
Spencer is survived by his loving wife, Laura Winthrop Abbot; their two beautiful girls, Eloise, 5, and Grace, 2; and their son, who is due in March.
Remembrance from Sara Bleich (WHF Class of 2015-16): Before the fellowship, I don’t think I had ever met anyone like Spencer. He had such a rare combination of wit, endless energy, kindness, sincerity, grace, and love for his family. I remember how he would always mention Laura, Eloise or Grace as his high points at our monthly business meetings. During one exercise as fellows – where we paired up and told our partner one thing we wanted to work on to be a better person – Spencer told me that he wanted to make more time to take Eloise to the park. Sure enough, that Saturday he texted me a picture of the two of them at the park – Eloise was happy as could be. I remember going to the aircraft carrier and seeing naval aviation up close and personal for the first time; after that my admiration for him was off the charts. I remember Spencer’s parents welcoming all of the fellows to their home where my girls had the chance to go tubing for the first time. Now, more than a year later, they still ask me “When is Uncle Spencie going to pull us behind the boat again?” I remember that Spencer could NOT tell a short story, used his hands a lot when we talked, could keep a straight face when telling a really funny joke, and did not move his mouth when be laughed – kind of like a ventriloquist. That always made me laugh harder. Our paths crossed for such a brief time, and I will miss him tremendously.
Remembrance from Rei Onishi (WHF Class of 2015-16): I remember meeting Spencer at Selection Weekend inside the St. Regis, and quickly connecting with him over our shared love of Japan. Amidst the tense atmosphere that weekend, he seemed to exude nothing but confidence and cool, while his warmth, jokes, and self-deprecating anecdotes made it impossible not to like him. I was sure that he’d become a White House Fellow and of course he did. They say you learn more from your co-Fellows during your fellowship year than from anything else, and Spencer was one of the reasons that was true for me. He had a remarkable gift for bringing people together, and not just to introduce one person to another, but to build lasting bridges between them. He had a sense of fun that could easily light up any occasion (“Who wants to play Yamanote-sen?”). And I’ll never forget his ability to suddenly command any room–anywhere in the world–and effortlessly improvise a toast that could elevate any moment into an unforgettably memorable one. Spencer’s ability to inspire trust, collaboration, and loyalty was just one of the many ways in which he modeled leadership for me. I will also always be deeply grateful for his tremendous hospitality and willingness to lend a helping hand if he could. He was a dedicated friend to me and so many others. Akemi and I miss him greatly.
Remembrance from La’Shanda Holmes (WHF Class of 2015-16): Spencer, you’ve always been a hero in my eyes. More than I’ve ever expressed to you in person and it saddens me to have to tell you now. I really can’t put my finger on the exact reason why…but I’ve always looked up to you and wanted to be a better person and officer because of the example you set – because of the phenomenal man that you were. Your loss is great but you live within all those you’ve touched forever. Blue skies and tailwinds my friend.
Remembrance from Naomi Dennis (WHF Class of 2015-16): It’s hard to think of our Sweet 16 class without 16 members. And Spence was such an valuable member of our class. He was on the committee that wrote our values and on the social committee. I thought it was the perfect duo for him because he mastered how to handle his business and always have fun. One of my fondest memories of him was with him and my son. When he found out my 3-year old son was an aspiringpilot, he offered to take him up in his plane. To this day, my son, who is now 5, talks about flying with Mr. Spence. It was so incredible for him to take the time to do that. I am sharing a few pictures below of our class adventures with Spence. The first is outside of The Late Show with Stephen Colbertduring our trip to NYC. The next is at the Truman Bowling Alley. The third is outside the WH after we’d left a business meeting at Jackson place. The last one is when he took my son for a ride on the plane.
Remembrance from Corey L. Harrison (WHF Class of 2015-16): Spencer was an incredible leader — funny, incredibly intelligent, wise, and incredibly humble. I enjoyed getting to know him in our White House Fellows group setting and hearing the legendary Soupbone stories around the corridors of the Pentagon. Everyone knew Spencer and loved him, me included. I was halfway around the world — specifically in the Admiral’s dining room on the USS Teddy Roosevelt in the South China Sea — and ran into a group of Soupbone fans near the dessert table. What are the odds?!? I jokingly told Spencer the story when I returned to the US and he humbly chuckled and nodded. He was a “humble legend” in my eyes ever since. My fondest memories with Spencer are the times we spent one-on-one. Whether we were walking into an event together or sitting next to each other in our sessions, I always enjoyed his company. We had lunch at the Army Navy Club and talked about the roads our lives had taken us and just how much we appreciated the WHF. We were roommates during our WHF stay on the USS Eisenhower. That night, he told me many stories of his life as a pilot. After the WHF, we regularly got together in the Pentagon and brainstormed on ways we could help each other. He was a great friend. My fondest memory is when he and Laura hosted my fiancé Kamillah (our WHF classmate) and I for dinner. I was used to seeing Spencer in large group settings, having rich dialogue, telling stories and jokes, etc. That night, I got to see him as husband and father. I will never forget that dinner. I remain grateful for the life of Spencer Abbot. He had a profound impact on me, our class, and our country. I will never forget the moments we shared and miss him.
Remembrance from Shereef Elnahal (WHF Class of 2015-16): I barely knew Spencer when he approached me right before our first fellowship seminar began. He knew that my wife, Marwa, was pregnant with our first child, and he decided to give me a gift: a book that had helped him – and added some humor – to his experience as a new dad. Laura herself was pregnant at the time, and I knew he was facing the same stress that I was coming into a new job and a new experience. And yet, he still found the time to be thoughtful enough to try and make my experience just a little bit easier.
Remembrance from Teeb Al-Samarrai (WHF Class of 2015-16): Spencer was a unique and extraordinary person. My image of him will always be of a larger than life beaming smile, a booming laugh (which only generated more laughter), an uncanny ability to be present with whomever he was speaking to, and a special twinkle in his eye whenever he spoke of Laura, Eloise, and Grace. He was an exceptional leader, devoted father and husband, charismatic, disarmingly humble and self-deprecating, ridiculously funny, a master storyteller, and full of energy.
We spent countless hours together as a class in conversation, on buses, in airports, around DC and around the world. Everywhere we went, no matter the situation or setting, Spencer had an uncanny ability to connect with people, putting everyone at ease, and never failing to fill a room with echoing laughter. He genuinely loved bringing people together, generously hosted all of us at his family’s home on the Chesapeake where we got to meet his amazing father and mother. The fellowship year was a balancing act of competing demands but Spencer somehow always made time for our fellowship family whether it was staying after a seminar to talk, volunteering, celebrating a birthday, or just getting together for a meal.
My respect and admiration for Spencer only grew when we had an opportunity to spend time on the USS Eisenhower as a fellowship class. It was here that I understood what it meant to be the intrepid naval aviator and what a courageous leader Spencer was. Throughout the year and even now, I continue to meet people who knew Spencer, were mentored by him, were his colleagues or classmates, or even just met him briefly who have been profoundly impacted and shaped by his example. What stands out most about Spencer though is how much he loved his family and the life he and Laura were building together. He had a deep love, admiration and respect for Laura, was utterly devoted to Eloise and Grace, and so excited about their new baby.
Spencer rarely shared his own accomplishments (though they were many) but always glowed with praise and adoration when he spoke of Laura and the work she was doing. He always had stories to share about Eloise and Grace and he loved sharing his family with us. Spending time with his family, one of the things I loved seeing was the special bond he had with Eloise, the huge beaming smile that would appear on her face when she was with her father, and how much joy, love, and giggles he brought into her life. I remember times when we travelled as a class, Spencer always made time to call and talk to Eloise in such a sweet way. She and Grace were truly the apples of their father’s eyes. I can’t imagine our fellowship year or our fellowship family without Spencer–he will always be present. I’m incredibly grateful that our paths crossed, for everything I’ve learned and continue to learn from Spencer. I miss you already, friend.
It was on a sunny morning in Los Angeles that I first witnessed Spencer’s chuckle change the dynamic in a room. We were gathered for Regionals, just beginning our conversations with one another, and we had settled on the task of understanding the locales from which each of us hailed. When Spencer’s turn arrived, he made light of his sleep deprivation having just flown from Japan, and I saw the whole room ease with his hearty, genuine laugh. 38 weeks pregnant and anticipating the panelists might take one look at me and count me out, I was personally grateful in that moment for Spencer’s rare and beautiful ability to bring people together and create joy. I’m still grateful now.
Spencer brought us together for some of the most memorable moments of our fellowship year, including at his parents’ home on the Maryland coast. On our first graciously hosted visit, Spencer spent hours captaining the family boat so others could water ski and tube behind it. My husband, Al, is an adventure sports aficionado who had never before water skied, and Spencer coached him enthusiastically and successfully through his first time popping up. They cruised out of sight, Spencer driving with a little extra zest, and Al came back grinning like a kid in a candy shop. Our young son, Rhodes, had been apprehensive all day about boarding the boat, and when he finally worked up the courage, it was time to dock and go in for dinner. Spencer, though, said, “C’mon, Buddy,” and to Rhodes’ delight, we made a sunset loop on the water. For days, Rhodes was repeating, “Boat riiiide! Boat riiiide!”
The world is a better place for Spencer’s generosity, kindness, and joy, as are so many individual lives. The impact of his leadership in military and public service will be remembered in myriad spaces, and yet it is his service of others that will stay with me always. At every Sweet 16 gathering and in so many future moments, I will be waiting to hear his chuckle light up the room. In remembrance, I will pay forward the generosity and joy I am so profoundly privileged to have known.
Remembrance from Erik Malmstrom (WHF Class of 2015-16): Spencer was a completely unique and singular individual who left an indelible mark on me and whose premature passing has been a tragic blow. Four qualities will forever define Spencer to me.
First, Spencer had an amazing richness of career and life experience. Not only was he an accomplished top naval aviator and military leader, but he had served on assignments at USAID and the State Department, won multiple prestigious fellowships, collected multiple elite degrees, traveled and lived around the world, and interacted with people from all walks of life. I benefitted tremendously from being able to learn from such a seasoned leader who had confronted so many difficult situations and accomplished so much. Moreover, I was inspired by Spencer’s passion for the Navy, for flying, and for learning new things and meeting new people. I was particularly grateful to see Spencer in his native element aboard the USS Eisenhower and how much it animated him being around his fellow sailors and beloved F-18’s.
Second, Spencer had a profound and abiding love for his family and friends. It was abundantly clear how dearly he loved his wife Laura and his two young daughters Eloise and Grace and how much they loved him back. Moreover, he seemed to know everyone in the entire District of Columbia and beyond. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to be out on the town with Spencer and have him run into multiple people whom he knew from his past life. And no matter how busy he was and whatever else he had going on, he would always prioritize spending quality time with his loved ones, whether generously having them over to his home or ensuring he was there for them at key moments in their life.
Third, he was grounded in a deeply held set of values. I had the honor of serving with Spencer on the WHF Values Committee, where we drafted a mission statement on behalf of our class that we read at the beginning of our monthly meetings. This experience, as many several conversations over the course of the fellowship year ranging from our experiences in the military to the importance of family in our lives to our career ambitions, gave me a unique glimpse into Spencer’s character, what mattered most to him, and how he viewed the world. At his core, Spencer was a consensus builder, someone who constantly sought to find common ground and bring people together. Personally, he helped me think and work through several decisions and challenges that I confronted and which I am hugely appreciative for.
Finally, on a lighter note, he was incredibly fun-loving and good-natured. One of my favorite hobbies of the fellowship year was playfully talking trash to Spencer and keeping his wit razor sharp for when he returned to the Navy after the fellowship. I had a number of recurring digs – as a former Army officer, I loved ribbing him about the Navy. I also loved commenting on Spencer’s advanced age. During one community service event at an elderly focused organization, the volunteer lead kicked off the event asking each of us to highlight an elderly person who had made an impact in their life. I commented, “a naval aviator who had once served at the State Department and USAID…” before everyone started laughing when they realized that I was referring to Spencer. He just nodded his head, smiled, and was the bigger man as usual. Beyond the teasing, Spencer knew how to have a good time, whether karaoke, dancing, whatever.
It was my true honor to count Spencer as a friend. I literally can’t imagine going thru the fellowship experience without him. My heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to Laura, the girls, and their families. Godspeed Spencer, you will be forever missed but never forgotten.
Remembrance from Alex Billioux (WHF Class of 2015-16): When I think of Spencer, the word that always comes to mind is “big”: he was taller than me (which is rare), his career and accomplishments seemed supernatural, his laugh filled any room no matter the size, and his heart seemed bottomless. I remember when I first met him how almost immediately he found a connection we had in common. Given we met during the national finalist weekend for the White House Fellowship, this seemed even more remarkable to me as not everyone is out to make you feel welcome and at ease. But Spencer seemed to do it effortlessly. What impressed me even more was that this ability to connect with whoever he was speaking with was not some affection that he put on to impress the White House Fellowship commissioners, it was just him. During the year we spent together as Fellows I had the privilege to watch him have the same effect on dozens and dozens of people, from Cabinet Secretaries to the young sailors serving us food in the mess line on the USS Eisenhower. There are a lot of ways in which Spencer inspired me to better myself, but none more so than his example of valuing genuine human connections. My connection to him is one that I dearly miss, but I will always be grateful for his fast friendship and the gift of his example as a leader, husband, father, friend, and human being.
Remembrance from Ashley E. Keenan (Deputy Director of the President’s Commission on WHF 2016-17): There are so many unforgettable memories of Spencer that have been swirling through my mind. Auspiciously, the most memorable moments seem to be the smallest ones. I began working in the office during Spencer’s year as a fellow, and as intimidating as a new job can be – it was elevated by the impressiveness of the group. Unsurprisingly to anyone that knew him, he was instantly warm, kind, and welcoming. Spencer held a special presence in any room he walked into, and odds are he was also good pals with everyone unmindful of age, title, or background. He was the first to send a note of thanks, and the last helping to clean up. Spencer had an incredible gift of telling a story and was always willing to share his time and thoughts. Our most recent lunch at the Pentagon, we got through our sandwiches and still had more to discuss so he suggested a cup of coffee.
Spencer was a mentor and a friend and I am grateful to have shared time with him. Although unbelievably busy, he never was rushed and always made sure the people around him felt like a priority. I was also lucky to also spend time with Spencer and Laura together – a duo that everyone vied to be around with their jovial and evident strong love. I thought of Spencer often during our policy trip on the USS Eisenhower the following year, as he habitually bantered with his classmates by chanting – “Fly Navy.” From the moment I stepped on the carrier, I had never seen a more evident display of team work, sacrifice, honor, and comradery. I felt this incredible rush of patriotism and honor to have known heroes, like Spencer.
Our country was fortunate to have his humble leadership in the air and over the waters. Throughout the year of the fellowship there are many discussions around impact, personally and professionally. I am regretful not to have personally told Spencer the great impact that he had on his classmates and staff of the White House Fellows , his friends, his colleagues, and his country. Thank you for sharing your bright laugh and warm spirit with us, Spencer, we miss you.
Remembrance from John Wood (WHF Class of 1996-1997): I met Spencer in 1997 at Tufts University where we he was getting his Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy and I was getting my PhD. We became close friends ever since. When he was in Navy flight school in Meridian Mississippi I flew an F-14 to see him; he was acing the flight program and soon flew the Navy’s very best fighters. I actively sought him out to become a White House Fellow, mentoring him through the process; he has been one of our best. I was so thankful he met Laura and had such beautiful girls. Just a couple months ago I stayed with Spencer and Laura at their lovely house in northern Virginia and was reading goodnight books with Eloise. We were already making plans to visit him and Laura in Japan when he took over the Defense Attaché position in a 2019. We all shared a love for Japan. Spencer was such a bright light in this world, one of the kindest souls, mediocre golfer (haha), dedicated Naval Officer, loving husband and father, and closest of friends. I know we will all miss him dearly. Laura, your Navy and White House Fellow’s family are standing by for you and the girls; we will be there. Aloha my dear friend Spencer and mahalo for your friendship. Woody.
Remembrance from Jenn Paolino (Deputy Director of the President’s Commission on WHF 2014-16): I met Spencer on the very first day of his White House Fellowship. He was the first to arrive at 712 Jackson Place and he was early. As someone who is admittedly not a morning person, I remember thinking that arriving early on one’s first day said a lot about his character. This first impression proved true. That day, we bonded over the fact that he was the first naval officer to become a fellow during my time at the White House — and I told him how much his service in this capacity meant to me personally since my grandfather was a WWII veteran. He listened with interest, sharing stories about his own family’s service in the Navy. Over the course of his Fellowship year, Spencer demonstrated leadership in the truest way. When I needed to corral the group or task a fellow with an important responsibility, there was no doubt in my mind that I could rely on Spencer. He was a dad, after all! When his class went on an aircraft carrier embark trip, one of the hallmark experiences of the program, Spencer briefed the class on what they should expect. It is a frightening experience for some – especially for civilians who have likely never landed a plane aboard a ship (not to mention the sensation of being launched off into flight). Spencer understood this and calmed fears of the group prior to and throughout the trip.
Spencer always thought big. During his Fellowship year, he hoped to fly his family’s plane to Gettysburg to attend orientation (we insisted that he drive), he wanted the Fellowship class to go to Japan for their international policy trip (they went to Germany), and he suggested that we invite the Mayor of Los Angeles to a dinner for alumni and friends of the program on our policy trip to California (we ended up inviting him at Spencer’s urging, but he wasn’t available). Spencer clearly wanted to shoot for the moon. After a while, he knew that I would sometimes get nervous when he would have a new idea or suggestion… and would kid me by suggesting outlandish things like taking a hovercraft to our next destination. He had an amazing sense of humor and an infectious laugh which still echoes in my mind. Spencer’s love for his family was such a huge part of him. When I found out I was pregnant, he was so happy for me and he continuously shared stories about his young family. How he loved and respected his wife Laura, and adored his little girls. He was always happy when Fellows’ families were included in events and activities so that he could share his experiences with them all.
Spencer’s notion of family was all-encompassing and extended to the Fellows and the staff. At the end of his Fellowship year, he hosted the fellows and families at his family’s home by the Chesapeake. I wasn’t able to attend because my child was still a newborn, but his kind invitation included Fellows, staff, kids, and any other family in town. He just wanted to bring everyone together for good times, which he defined as: “water skiing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, boating, as well as a slip and slide, tubing behind the boat, and other stuff to do for kids.” He wrote: “For those who can stick around through Sunday and have interest in an aerial tour, we can do some flying if you’re feeling the ‘need for speed’ and the weather cooperates …looking forward to seeing everyone and reluctantly celebrating the closure of a fantastic year with a truly remarkable group of lifelong friends. Fly Navy. Spencer”
Remembrance from Jenny Kaplan (Director of the President’s Commission on WHF 2014-17): At a time where we are all trying to grapple with something immense, it seems small to try to put memories into a few paragraphs. It also seems like the least that could be done to honor and remember someone who gave us all so much.
The Fellowship experience is filled with big moments and small encounters. In June of 2015, I met Spencer during Selection Weekend. Spencer was a force, a presence, and a real grown up (and not just because he was the oldest person in the group, which he was always a good sport about). He epitomized the commitment to leadership and public service of White House Fellows. From the start, Spencer was a leader who stepped up when needed, delivered the highest quality effort, and quickly grew close to his class. He was willing to push himself outside of his comfort zone and he was always ready to take a risk or ask for more on behalf of his classmates. Spencer also had a much-appreciated rich sense of humor and a mischievous smile. One of the things I enjoyed most about Spencer is that he suffered from the same teller-of-long-stories problem that has plagued me for years. He could tell a great story about anything, at any time and manage to be self-deprecating about the duration of the story in the process.
In addition to his love of flying, what stood out most to me about Spencer was his love of family. At the start of the year, Spencer hosted the class for a special weekend and it set the tone for the closeness of the group. Throughout the year he always offered to bring people together. Family meant the world to him, especially Laura and the girls. His daughter Grace was born during the start of the year and we had many conversations about small children and the wonderful chaos they bring. You could see how much he loved them and how proud he was of his family. I remember meeting his Mom, Laura, and Eloise before the White House Halloween party. They were all in costume – including Spencer who was all decked out displaying his sense of humor. In the fall of 2015, I experienced my own family emergency and Spencer was incredibly supportive. He sent emails to check-in and even shared a photo from the Fellows’ policy trip to lift my spirits. A year later, post-Fellowship, he took the time to email me birthday wishes from Singapore.
A thousand little comments, events, trips, and conversations took place over the course of our time together. At the end of the Fellowship year, Spencer presented me my gift from the class, which he did in the most Spencer of ways. That moment, along with all the times he made us laugh a little harder and stand a little taller are the things I will remember most.
Remembrance from Carlos Del Toro (WHF Class of 1998-99): I first met Spencer as his WHF and Navy mentor and was immediately impressed by his extraordinary professionalism and his complete love for his family. We became very close as he thrived in the fellowship in every conceivable way and I grew to respect him even more as someone with tremendous potential. While Spencer has been taken far too soon from all of us, we must now come together in support of Laura and his beautiful children to ensure they always remain part of our very special White House Fellow family.posted: December 12, 2017