The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of WHOI Life Trustee Louis W. Cabot on January 29 at his home in the Tenants Harbor village of St. George, Maine. He was 99.
Though born into a storied Boston Brahmin family, Louis W. Cabot measured accomplishments by more than a financial yardstick.
“Now, for the first time in history to any important degree, being strong and tough and self-servingly successful just doesn’t get by,” he said in 1966 when he accepted the Harvard Business School’s Business Statesman Award.
“Making money as an end in itself,” he added, “is a fault, not a virtue.”
Mr. Cabot was the former president and chairman of Cabot Corp., the specialty chemicals and materials company founded by his grandfather.
During his executive years with his family’s business, Cabot Corp.’s annual sales increased from $27 million to $1.4 billion, according to his family, and as president, he took the business public.
He also formerly was chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and had been on the boards of companies including Arthur D. Little, Wang Laboratories, New England Telephone and Telegraph, Owens-Corning Fiberglas, and Penn Central Railroad.
Mr. Cabot, who stepped down as chairman of Cabot Corp. in 1986, served on the Defense Secretary’s Commission on Base Realignment and Closure, formed in 1988 to recommend for realignment and closure of US military installations. Earlier, he was a member of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, created in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.
A former board chairman of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Council for Financial Aid to Education, Mr. Cabot was a former member of the Harvard University board of overseers. He also had led a group of corporate executives who pushed for more financial support for leading private institutions.
“We care about this because we believe that an independent private business economy depends on a free market for ideas — as does a free society,” he told the Globe in 1980.
The year he retired from his family’s business, Mr. Cabot began chairing the Brookings Institution’s board of trustees. In a September 1986 Globe interview, he said that among his goals was increasing donations to the think tank.
“What I want to do is first broaden public awareness of what Brookings is, so people are involved, rather than considering it an ivory tower, way over there,” he said. “You do not raise significant money from people who don’t know about you.”
Mr. Cabot added that a shift in perception was also in order.
“Brookings has been pictured by people as a, quote, ‘liberal think tank,’ and it’s been contrasted with conservative ones,” he said. “The trustees of Brookings have felt that was an unfortunate image. We’re trying to develop an image that’s absolutely nonpartisan, non-ideological.”
Mr. Cabot also wasn’t averse to challenging his own public image.
Although he had been a lifelong Republican, he parted ways with his party in the 1992 presidential election to join a number of corporate leaders who backed Democrat Bill Clinton.
“I have been a businessman all my life and have always voted Republican,” he wrote to begin an Oct. 30, 1992, opinion essay in the Globe. “But this year I am working for the Clinton/Gore campaign. For 25 years I was CEO and chairman of a multinational chemical and energy company founded by my grandfather 110 years ago. I understand long-term growth. I am deeply committed to a free-enterprise, market economy.”
Mr. Cabot had become disenchanted, however, during Republican leadership in Washington, D.C.
“I have seen America prosper under nine different presidents. But in the past decade I have seen an alarming reversal,” he wrote. “We’ve consumed far more than we’ve produced, and we’ve borrowed from foreigners to pay for it. We’ve accepted a steady decline in our schools. Most of us are worse off than we were 10 years ago. I still applaud the good, healthy Republican philosophy of self-reliance. But the pendulum has swung too far. We’ve begun to let ‘love thyself’ replace ‘love thy neighbor,’ possibly in our hearts as well as our actions.”
The oldest of five siblings, Louis Wellington Cabot was born in Boston on Aug. 3, 1921, a son of Virginia Wellington Cabot and Thomas Dudley Cabot.
Thomas Cabot had built the carbon black business founded by his father, Godfrey Lowell Cabot, into an international operation with more than two dozen plants, in the United States and abroad. Carbon black is used for items including rubber products, paint, and printing ink.
Louis attended Noble and Greenough School and graduated from Fountain Valley School in Colorado, which held greater appeal to his twin passions for scholarship and outdoor activities.
“He was a skier like very few people have seen. He was so graceful, it was effortless. It was almost like dancing,” said his wife, Mabel Brandon Cabot. “And he was a sailor that nobody could touch,”
They married in 1997. She had been social secretary to the White House in the Reagan administration, and they met through the Brookings Institution, where her late husband, Henry Brandon, had been a guest scholar.
Mr. Cabot graduated from Harvard College in 1943 and served in the Navy’s V-7 program as an aeronautical engineer. Returning home after World War II, he graduated with honors from Harvard Business School and went to work for his family’s business as a laborer in a carbon black plant in Texas.
Brought into the executive ranks, he moved to England to open a carbon black plant that was the first facility in that country built as part of the Marshall Plan to renew Europe’s post-war economic prospects.
Shrugging off British formality, he insisted that everyone, including factory workers, “call him ‘Louis.’ None of this ‘Mr. Cabot,’ ” his wife said.
“He always had a sense of humor and he always was very engaging,” said Mr. Cabot’s daughter Helen Cabot McCarthy of North Hero, Vt.
As he emphasized collaboration as an executive, “humor was one of his great charms, but it also was a mechanism to get consensus,” Mr. Cabot’s wife said. “It also worked in his family, and it was a family with lots of laughter and lots of teamwork and pride.”
Mr. Cabot had been named president of Cabot Corp. in 1960, at 39. In the 20th anniversary report of his Harvard class, he quipped that “selecting the right grandparents probably helped me get the job.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Cabot leaves two sons, James and Mithran, both of West Newbury; two other daughters, Anne Cabot Alletzhauser of Johannesburg and Amanda, who lives in Belize; his former wife Mary Louise Cabot of Hamilton, with whom he had five children; a brother, Robert of Seattle; a sister, Linda Black of Cambridge; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be announced after the pandemic-related restrictions on the size of gatherings are lifted.
Mr. Cabot “truly was somebody connected with people. It was really more about the people than anything else,” Helen said.
“He was not different with anyone,” his wife said. “He didn’t change gears. What you saw is what you got, and it was a warm, generous, friendly man who was genuinely interested in you.”
This obituary is being reprinted by permission from Bryan Marquard’s article in the Boston Globe