Colette Abbott, wife of USD President James Abbott, dies suddenly at home after cancer diagnosis
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Colette Abbott, wife of USD President James Abbott, dies suddenly at home after cancer diagnosis

First Lady Colette Abbott, the wife of USD President James Abbott, died suddenly Wednesday afternoon at their residence at the age of 59, according to a statement from University Relations.

She was recently diagnosed with cancer and was awaiting surgery, according to a statement.

An ambulance sits on the street by USD President Jim Abbott and his wife Colette’s house Wednesday afternoon. Malachi Petersen / The Volante

President Abbott could be seen talking to emergency personnel at his home, and followed an ambulance in another vehicle as it left with its lights and sirens on after Colette was taken from the home on a stretcher at about 12:30 p.m.

As the first lady of USD, she was a fixture of campus, known by faculty, staff and students alike for her support of campus organizations and Coyote athletics. Many people took to social media to express their condolences to the Abbott family after learning about her death, and still others took the time to talk about their memories of her.

“Faculty, staff and students are grieving this loss because Colette was such an important member of the USD community. Our sympathies are with President Abbott and his family,” said Tena Haraldson, director of Marketing Communications & University Relations, in a statement.

Sophomore Holly Hayden, a resident adviser at North Complex, said she was shocked when she heard the news of Mrs. Abbott’s death.

“I was very shocked when I heard of the passing of Mrs. Abbott. While I did not know much of Mrs. Abbott, she seemed to be very passionate about USD,” Hayden said. “My deepest sympathies go to President Abbott and the rest of his family during this difficult time.”

Shannon Weber, a junior, said the First Lady left a lasting impression on her from just one meeting.

“I only had the opportunity to meet her once but she welcomed me into her home and she seems like such a kind individual. It makes me very sad to see that she is passed away,” she said.

Remembering Colette Abbott

First-year Kelsey Rokahr, a cheerleader, said she often saw Colette at basketball games and that her death isn’t just a loss to President Abbott, but to USD as well.

“I didn’t really know her that well but the times we talked to her at the basketball games she was a very sweet and caring lady that loved this university. I was shocked to hear that she was diagnosed with cancer and was awaiting surgery. It was a very unexpected event and this is such a big loss not only for President Abbott but to the university as well.”

Jim Moran, USD provost and vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement that Colette touched many lives at USD.

“We always took notice of her enthusiasm that helped make each event she attended so special. We remember her as a solid basis of support, not just for President Abbott, but for each and every one of us whose lives she touched,” Moran said. “We will remember her cheering at the basketball games, her greeting students at the last night finals week breakfast, and her welcoming smile at all of the presidential functions she hosted. USD will not quite be the same for a time, but for now we focus on our sympathy and prayers for President Abbott and his family.”

A memorial service was held at the Legacy Statue on Wednesday evening to honor the memory of the First Lady.

At the service, Abbott said his wife was someone who made the world a better place.

“I think that some people make the world a better place simply because of the way that they are and her nature was to love everybody,” he said.

Abbott thanked the more than 200 faculty, staff, students and community members who came to the service to support him and his family.

“We will get through this with the help of everyone here and everyone else around the area who are friends of ours. We will manage.”

Malachi Petersen, Cheyenne Alexis, Tatum Dean and Trent Opstedahl contributed to this story.