OCEAN CITY — The resort community this week lost a treasured friend and icon this week with the passing of Ocean City Tourism Director Donna Abbott.
Abbott succumbed on Wednesday after a ferocious battle with cancer at the age of 62. Abbott was a fixture in Ocean City for decades, beginning her career in municipal government as public relations director for the town in April 1997. Since 2012, she had served a tourism director, overseeing destination marketing and working closely with the town’s advertising agency to promote Ocean City as a premiere vacation destination.
Abbott grew up in Cambridge and later attended Towson University where she majored in mass communications. Following college, she began her communications and public relations journey back on the Eastern Shore as a news editor, holding publication management positions in print and radio media.
With her impeccable writing skills and a passion for public relations, Abbott also held positions as public information officer for the Ocean Pines career and Perdue before joining the town of Ocean City in 1997.
“Donna dedicated nearly 23 years of her life to the town of Ocean City,” said Mayor Rick Meehan on Wednesday. “She was as devoted as they come and was passionate about destination marketing. She was highly respected by everyone who knew her and her loss will be felt in Ocean City and throughout the state of Maryland.”
Indeed, Abbott excelled at tourism marketing and her fingerprints were all over some of Ocean City’s most successful campaigns. She also tirelessly recruited and retained many of the popular special events in the resort each year and organized press junkets for the mayor and others in several of the town’s target markets each year.
As an avid Orioles and Ravens fan, she loved the state of Maryland as much as she loved Ocean City. She was also deeply respected as a tourism director and public relations manager all over the state. Along with her roles within the town of Ocean City, including the resort’s first communications manager, Abbott was active within the tourism community across the state.
Abbott was the recipient of numerous awards including two Governor’s Citations for marketing and public relations campaigns. In addition, she recently served a vice chair on the executive board of the Maryland Association of Destination Marketing Organizations. Throughout her career as public relations director, communications manager and ultimately tourism director, Abbott worked closely with the resort’s hospitality industry including the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, which fondly remembered in a statement this week.
“It is with heavy hearts and tremendous sadness that we share the news of our beloved Tourism Director Donna Abbott’s passing,” the statement read. “She was so loved and respected and we will deeply miss her and her infectious smile. Prayers and love to her family.”
Beyond all of her professional accomplishments, which were numerous, perhaps most importantly Abbott was a devoted family person, colleague, friend and just a genuinely nice person.
“Not only was Donna a fabulous colleague, but she was a fantastic mother, grandmother and dear friend,” said Meehan. “The only thing she loved more than her profession was her family. Her mother, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren were her true passion. Ocean City won’t be the same without her, but I am confident the legacy she left with the town will last forever.”
Clearly more than these few words can express was a heartfelt and somewhat light tribute authored by her son Ryan Abbott this week. The tribute spoke fondly of Abbott’s upbringing in Cambridge, including being named Ms. Rescue Fire Company Queen and a ride on the back of her fire truck, wearing a crown and waving to parade attendees. It was a role she would later reprise often as part of her official duties with the town of Ocean City and clearly a role she relished.
“When she became media relations manager for the town of Ocean City, it was apparent she had stumbled onto her dream job, and that job bled into her next job as director of tourism,” her son’s tribute reads. “That job, sharing the joy of the beach with people from all over the world, tossing taffy from Boardwalk trams during all of the parades, was her calling in life. So many of us ricochet through life without finding that perfect fit. She had it and it showed, and the town of Ocean City is a better place because of her work.”
Abbott passed this week in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented event during which she would have clearly summoned her many talents to help the town of Ocean City navigate. In his tribute, her son said there will be a celebration of her life when the time is right.
“There will eventually be a celebration of life, but I’m not going to let that happen by way of live stream or a remote service,” he wrote. “You can forget that. There will be a gathering, there will be hugs and there will be human touch, just not right away. Once the pandemic gripping the world ebbs and it’s safe to assemble, we will have ourselves a shindig and celebrate the coolest woman I’ve ever known.”