For Tina Abbott, the focus has always been on aiding the downtrodden — the people who are poor, sickly, uneducated, or young. Growing up in the middle of the civil rights movement, she developed a passion early on for the labor movement. As a girl, she often tagged along with her father, a union worker, to union meetings and found her world forever changed by the interesting people she encountered there and the experiences they shared.
In turn, she made the commitment to pass on her knowledge and passion to her children and grandchildren. “I wanted to make sure they had an understanding of the world more than the neighborhood that we lived in,” she said. This included bringing them along with her to union meetings, just like her father did before her.
“My kids, I made sure that they were there with me,” Abbott said. “My grandkids, they hear so much about the union. But that’s what that university is there for: to make you a well-rounded person, not a narrow minded person. So I’ve always tried to make sure my kids were well-rounded, understood how to get along with people, why we have the movement, things that happened in the civil rights movement ... These are things that Wayne, they touch on all these different things to make you that well-rounded person.”
The university and its goals of enriching lives and improving society are especially dear to Abbott after eight years serving on the Wayne State Board of Governors and two of those years as its chair. But after deciding not to run for another term, Abbott will retire from the board at the end of the fall semester, with her last day officially set as Dec. 31, 2012.
Abbott has held many union and labor positions over the years. Graduating from WSU’s Labor School in 1986, Abbott has also served as secretary-treasurer of Michigan’s chapter of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, UAW representative for state workers in the local 6000 chapter and an assistance payment worker in the Michigan Department of Social Services.
Abbot had never considered running for a Board of Governors position, but when several associates suggested it, she decided to give it a try. She was elected in November 2004 and has maintained a vital role in university politics ever since.
The responsibility isn’t something she takes lightly.
“This is serious business,” Abbott said. “We have a responsibility for people’s lives, and ensure that the students that come there have a wonderful experience.” Abbott also said that she hopes that the policies and causes she has fought for at WSU will allow her grandchildren to have the same wonderful college experience that she had.
Abbott holds many dear memories of her time as a governor, including the close relationship she cultivated with lawyer Richard Bernstein, who served as governor from 2002-2010. She also said that she will miss the university’s students most of all, especially the Student Senate members who serve on the board, who she called “brilliant kids” and “fascinating people.”
Without a doubt, her fellow board members are sad to see her go.
“She’s always been a pleasure to be with,” said Gov. Annetta Miller, who is also retiring in December. “She’s been a fine member of the board and I’m sorry that she’s leaving, but since I’m leaving (also) then I won’t have to put up with not having her there.”
“Tina is a passionate and very dedicated supporter of Wayne State,” Gov. Eugene Driker said. “She has never shied away from difficult issues, but instead has pushed the Board and the administration to deal with them head-on … I will personally miss her delightful personality on our Board.”
The Board of Governor’s meeting on Dec. 5 was Abbott’s final session, where she was appointed governor emeritus and an endowed scholarship fund of $25,000 was set up in her name, according to the meeting agenda listed at bog.wayne.edu.
Even though her social and political activism over the years has been mainly focused on the importance and impact of labor unions, Abbott made sure to emphasize that her lifelong fight for justice encompasses much more than just protecting the working class.
“It’s a little bit broader than just looking after what we call union people — people within the organization,” Abbott said. “We touch one another … when you look at life, you don’t look at it just as one piece. Everything goes together. You know, Dr. King used to always say that we’re all held together by a single thread; that’s true.”
“You always want the best for your people,” Abbott said. “And that’s what Wayne State really, I believe, tries to give you: the best.”
In addition to spending free time bonding with her husband, three children and nine grandchildren, Abbott will continue to serve as first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and lifetime member of the NAACP after her retirement.