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Ohio University mourns distinguished engineering alumnus, decorated WWII vet

Colleen Carow | Nov 12, 2015

Ohio University mourns distinguished engineering alumnus, decorated WWII vet

Colleen Carow | Nov 12, 2015

Ohio University is mourning the loss of distinguished alumnus and decorated World War II veteran Ret. Brigadier General James M. Abraham, BSEE ’42, BSISE ’48, Hon. D. '15, who passed away Sunday evening after a second battle with cancer. He would have been 93 years old on November 21.

“Deborah and I were grieved to learn about the passing of our dearly beloved General Abraham, a devoted alumnus and a truly extraordinary human being. His service to Ohio University and to our nation has been deeply impactful,” said OHIO President Roderick McDavis, who conferred an honorary doctorate of public service to Abraham in September. “We will always cherish his passion, his energy and the warm disposition with which he approached every endeavor. Our hearts are heavy as are the hearts of all who had the privilege and honor of knowing this truly remarkable man.”

Abraham was a dedicated Ohio University supporter and volunteer for many years whose talents and passion have touched various areas of campus, from OHIO’s ROTC program to public broadcasting. OHIO’s new Veterans and Military Student Service Center was named for him in March 2015 as the Brigadier General James M. Abraham-Colonel Arlene F. Greenfield Veterans and Military Student Services Center.

He received the Ohio University Distinguished Service Award in 2002 and was an inaugural inductee into the Russ College Academy of Distinguished Graduates in 1998. In 1980, he became a founding member of the advisory board to the Russ College, serving more than 30 years. In the 1970s, he crafted a ROTC membership plan that saved OHIO’s program. And as a student, he helped build WOUB. His charitable gifts since then have supported more than 13 areas of campus.

“It’s impossible for me to convey how important General Abraham has been to my tenure as dean of the Russ College. When I needed a pat on the back, he was always there. When I needed advice, he always provided it, and it was always correct. When I needed support when under duress, he was always there. I’ll miss him very deeply,” said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin.

Tim Schaffer, executive director of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, which Abraham served as president, noted Abraham’s contribution to the engineering profession.

"General Abraham, who was also a licensed professional engineer, was an outstanding gentleman and patriot. As president of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, he set a high bar for performance and creativity with his colleagues. He will be greatly missed," Schaffer said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1943 at OHIO, Abraham served the United States in the European theater during World War II under Gen. Robert S. Patton, Jr., fighting on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy. His dedicated military service earned numerous military honors, including the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Stars, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, the Normandy Medal and the French diploma of appreciation.

Abraham then returned to OHIO to earn a second bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1948. As an undergraduate, he helped launch the University’s first radio station, WOUB, for which he personally pulled wires through OHIO’s steam tunnels. He was later named chief engineer of the station.

As an OHIO alumnus, he committed himself to the development of military leadership in higher education, paving the way for generations of ROTC cadets and Army Reserve service members to complete their education with a full tuition waiver. Abraham is responsible for creating and implementing the Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), the nation’s first tuition grant program for National Guard soldiers. The overwhelming success of the pilot program’s first year was singularly responsible for the continuation of the ROTC program at OHIO, which the U.S. Army had previously slated for deactivation.

According to President Emeritus Charles J. Ping, in the 1970s, OHIO’s enrollment had decreased from 19,000 to 13,000 students. He had just taken office as president, and the U.S. Army had just notified OHIO that the ROTC program was to be closed. Abraham was assistant adjutant general for Ohio for the Army at the time.

“The last thing the University needed was to lose more students, especially students supported by scholarships,” Ping said. “We traveled to Washington and lobbied hard both the military and civilian leadership of the Army. In the past 40 years, the OHIO ROTC unit has prospered and is now recognized as one of the strongest campus ROTC programs in the nation.”

Fellow Russ College alumnus, Board of Visitors member, and Brig. Gen. Mark Arnold, BSIE '81, MBA '88, shared one of Abraham’s many leadership principles.

“General Abraham said, ‘If you want something done, then do it; take action yourself.’ His leadership and tenacity got the ball over the goal line when the defenders of the status quo were a large team of generals, senior in rank to him, and dozens of senior elected and appointed government leaders,” Arnold said. “His legacy is the thousands of military officers and tens of thousands of enlisted service members who otherwise never would have had the opportunity for a college education. Add to that the thousands who will serve as our nation's military's future leaders during the decades to come -- leaders who will have the benefit of serving in enlisted ranks while simultaneously preparing to become officers through ROTC,” Arnold added. 

Abraham also served as an advisor to U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi on countless occasions with regards to military, defense and veterans issues, serving more than 25 years as chairman of the 12th Congressional District Service Academy Nomination Board, which selects some of central Ohio’s best and brightest high school students to be nominated for prestigious appointments to the nation’s military service academies.

In civilian life, Abraham spent decades serving in volunteer administrative, civic and advisory roles around Columbus and Athens, Ohio. He served as a volunteer tax advisor, helping complete more than 4,500 tax returns. The Gahanna, Ohio, municipal building was named in his honor, and throughout his life, he authored three books.

Russ College board members contributed their sentiments and memories of Abraham:

“Gen. Abraham was not only a true patriot and hero from the ‘Greatest Generation’ but was an inspiration to all of us who had the honor of knowing him. He was a kind, generous and giving person with great insight into many current day issues. He was always ready to try and shed light on a subject or problem by drawing from his vast life experiences. He was a true ‘Renaissance Man,’” said Chuck Stuckey, BSME '66, Hon. D. '05.

“I visited Gen. Abraham for almost 18 months. In the beginning we talked about his war experiences, politics and leadership. As the end drew near, our conversation changed to more personal things, his family and children, his friends on the Russ College board of visitors, and life, and heaven and death. It's those conversations that I will remember. They were a window into the man,” said Jim Edwards, BSCHE '70.

 “I once invited Gen. Abraham to be a guest reader at our local school. He was to spend 30 minutes reading and chatting to seventh graders. He was there for two hours. The students each sent him very specific thank you notes. He was so overwhelmed by their expression of gratitude,” said Debbie Burke, BSCHE '85.

“Gen. Abraham was always there, and ready to give you meaningful comments, helpful directions for future actions. We will dearly miss him, but we will feel his presence for many years,” said Ray Fogg, BSCE ’53, Hon. D. '14.

“Gen. Abraham was an American patriot. He served his country in World War II and worked a lifetime for peace. He gave back to his country many times over what his country gave to him. He was a scholar, a hero and a friend.  They don’t come any better,” said Carla Lucchino, MSISE '82.

A funeral Mass will be held Friday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Matthew’s Church at 807 Havens Corners in Gahanna, Ohio, at 10:30 a.m. Visitation will be held Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Schoedinger Northeast Funeral Home, at 1051 Johnstown Road, GahannaOH 43230. A memorial service will follow at 3 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The General James M. Abraham and Parishioner’s Tuition Assistance Fund and sent to 807 Havens Corners, Gahanna, Ohio, 43230; or to the Brig. Gen. James M. Abraham, P.E., and Meryl R. Abraham Memorial Endowment Scholarship and sent to P.O. Box 869, Athens, Ohio, 45701 by noting the fund name in the check memo line.

To leave online condolences, visit www.schoedinger.com