Anthony “Tony” S. Abbott, Charles A. Dana Professor of English Emeritus

Anthony S. Abbott of Davidson, NC passed away on October 3, 2020 at the age of 85.  He was in hospice care in Statesville surrounded by loved ones at his passing.

Tony will be remembered as a tremendous scholar and teacher, a talented and influential writer, a selfless volunteer to his community, a steadfast friend and a devoted husband and father. 

He received his early education at a junior boarding school, Fay School, in Massachusetts and later graduated from the Kent School in Connecticut.  A 1957 graduate of Princeton, where he majored in English, he went on to receive his Ph.D from Harvard and then taught for two years at Bates College.

In 1964, he moved–along with his wife Susan–to Davidson College to teach modern drama and American Literature.  He taught there for 37 years, serving as chair of the English department for seven of them.  During that time he became a truly beloved teacher and was granted some of the college’s highest awards, including the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award and the Thomas Jefferson Award.  He remains the Charles A. Dana Professor of English Emeritus and today the Abbott English Honors Program at Davidson is named in his honor and “welcomes and promotes original work produced by senior majors in the Department of English, work of exceptional quality and polish that makes a contribution to the field.”  

Former students describe him as “young at heart” and remember him not just as an inspirational instructor but as “the kind of professor friend many of us needed during our college years of exploration and growth” and recall fondly taking walks with him on the campus or traveling with him on college trips.

After his retirement from the college in 2001, Tony continued to teach.  He was a visiting professor at Catawba College, the writer-in-residence at Lenoir Rhyne and taught workshops at Queens University and at colleges, universities and churches throughout the state. 

For over 50 years he ran the Covenant Sunday School classes at Davidson College Presbyterian Church and regularly taught seminars on Walker Percy, Frederick Buechner, John Irving and Flannery O’Connor.  In his final years, he devoted much of his time and thought to the DavidsonLearns program, designed to promote lifelong learning for “mature” students.  He was still conducting classes via zoom two weeks before his passing.

In 2015, Tony received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the highest civilian honor given by the state, and he is slated to be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame on October 11, 2020.  Best known as a poet, he once described himself as “poet who happened to write novels.”  

His first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and he went on to publish eight books of poetry, the last of which he completed this year and which will be published posthumously.  The accessibility of his work has led many readers to embrace poetry.  Said one, “Tony taps into everyday language and situations of love and loss.  He elevates the minutiae of life into universal truths, without rendering the language and images obscure and impossible to understand.”  

His first novel, Leaving Maggie Hope, won the 2003 Novello Literary Award, and was followed by a sequel, The Three Great Secret Things.   He is also the author of four books of literary criticism, two on modern drama.

As a teacher and a writer, Tony has been a bridge builder between those communities.  He has been an integral part of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and the North Carolina Poetry Society, bringing writers of all styles and genres together with readers and scholars. 

A dynamic reader, he called upon his theater experience to make his readings into performances and he loved doing readings for schools, churches, bookstores and book clubs around the country–hundreds of them over the years.

Tony was devoted to the town and the people of Davidson.  He was one of the founders of the Davidson Community Players and directed or acted in dozens of shows through the years.  He coached youth baseball teams and led church youth groups. He volunteered for the Red Cross, driving patients to their treatments and developing deep, meaningful relationships with them. 

In 2018, the town honored him with the Jack Burney Award for Community Service in recognition for his lifetime of voluntary efforts.  But perhaps his greatest service to the town was the way he connected folks to one another–“If you were friends with Tony, you had a vast network of friends you just hadn’t met yet,” said one community member.  “Tony wanted everyone he knew to be friends with everyone else he knew.”  

His love for the Davidson community was palpable and it helped the town maintain its sense of warmth and connectedness throughout his lifetime.

Above all else, he was a devoted family man.  His mother died when he was very young and he did not know his father well until later in his life.  Perhaps because of or perhaps in spite of the distance from his parents, he was wholly committed to building and raising a connected family. He met Susan Dudley when they worked together at a ranch in Wyoming.  They were married in 1960 and celebrated their 60th anniversary together a month before his passing. 

Together, they had four children–David (who married Donna Stancil Abbott), Stephen (Katy Smith Abbott), Andrew (Katie Weiss Abbott) and Carolyn, who passed away at age four–and seven grandchildren: Robert, James, Elliott, Josie, Clara, Henry and John. 

Tony and Susan loved hosting the extended family at their lake home, traveling with them, and playing long, competitive games of cards or Boggle or Rummikub.  Tony often recited poetry to them before meals or at family occasions. 

He will be buried beside Carolyn in the family plot in Davidson.  He still describes her death as his most life-changing event, and she remained central to his life as the muse for his poetry.

A service to honor Dr. Anthony S. Abbott will take place at 2:00 on October 17 at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.  Because of the COVID crisis only family will be permitted in the sanctuary, but the service will be available via livestream, and the link will be available on the church website and distributed closer to the date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Abbott Honors Program in English, Davidson College, Box 7170, Davidson NC 28035-7170; to the Davidson Community Players, PO Box 76, Davidson, NC 28036; or to the charity of your choice.

A service will be held for family only on October 17 at 2:00 pm. The service will also be livestreamed. Click here for the service Saturday at 2:00 pm. The Abbott family is under the care of Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home & Cremation Services. 

Online condolences and memories may be shared at

Tony’s family is deeply interested in remembrances of his life.  If you have stories or reflections that you would like to share, please email them to his son Stephen Abbott at so that they can be included in Tony’s service or distributed to the family, as appropriate.

Former Trustee Janet Hostetter Wilson

Janet Hostetter Wilson, of Davidson, North Carolina, formerly of Lenoir, died peacefully on March 14, 2020, at the age of 86, with family by her side.

Janet was born in New York City on January 21, 1934. She grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, and attended Kent Place School.

In 1955, she earned her baccalaureate degree at Wellesley College, where she was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. She married Thomas Henry Wilson, Jr., in the fall of 1955, and was married for over 47 years until his death. She lived in Lenoir, North Carolina most of her adult life. After her three children were of school age, she obtained her master’s degree in psychology from Appalachian State University.

Passionate about education, she served on the Caldwell County Board of Education for 16 years, leading the board as its Chair. She served on the North Carolina School Boards Association for 12 years and held the statewide position of President. She served as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly’s Public Education Policy Council, as Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, and as Chair of the North Carolina Alliance for Public Education.

Devoted to providing educational opportunity to children, in her later years she worked diligently with the Foundation for the Carolinas to establish a fund and strategy to help provide Pre-K education to elementary schools in Caldwell County.

With a special love for Davidson College and as one of its most loyal advocates and supporters, Janet was a member of the Davidson College Board of Visitors and the Davidson College Board of Trustees, serving on its Athletics Policy Committee and Admissions and Financial Aid Committee. She especially loved the Davidson baseball team and regularly attended games.

As Davidson’s nominee, she was the recipient of the Southern Conference Distinguished Service Award. She was also awarded the Satie Broyhill Lifetime Achievement Award, the North Carolina School Boards Association Award for Outstanding Boardmanship, and the L.A. Dysart Citizenship Award, presented by the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce, for her commitment to education and to the community.

Janet served on the boards of the Patterson School Foundation, Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care, the Caldwell Hospice Foundation, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, the Education Foundation of Caldwell County, and the Caldwell 20/20 Steering Committee. She was an elder of United Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, North Carolina, where she sang joyously in the church choir, and later was a member of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

As a lover of art, she worked on the art committees for both the Caldwell Hospice and the Caldwell Memorial Hospital Cancer Center to help ensure art was present in these facilities. She helped support the construction and opening of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and advocated its value to the community.

She loved nature and believed a large part of every day should be spent outside. Janet had a passion for birds, gardening, and playing tennis. She loved her friends and her family and approached life with humility, graciousness, and concern for others.

Janet is survived by her three children and their spouses, Henry and Karin Wilson, Amy and John Scott, and David and Melody Wilson; her brother and his wife, Amos and Barbara Hostetter, and her six beloved grandchildren, Ellen, Robb, Tommy, Matt, Margaret, and Ben.

A private memorial was held for Janet by her family on March 16. Due to current health concerns, a public service will be postponed until a future time when we may gather in safety and love to remember and celebrate Janet’s life.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc., 902 Kirkwood Street NW, Lenoir, North Carolina 28645, or Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, P.O. Box 3023, Morganton, North Carolina 28680.

Condolences can be directed to Amy Wilson Scott, P.O. Box 15150, Jackson, Wyoming 83002.

Sossoman Funeral Home and Crematory Center is assisting the family with the arrangements.

Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting

Published in Charlotte Observer on Mar. 18, 2020

Rev. Brenda H. Tapia, Former Associate Chaplain and Founding Director of the Love of Learning Program

Rev. Brenda H. Tapia, Former Associate Chaplain and Founding Director of the Love of Learning Program

The Reverend Brenda H. Tapia passed away on February 5, 2020.

A beloved mentor, teacher and friend to countless Davidson College alumni, Rev. Tapia passed away earlier today. She joined Davidson College in 1985 to work part-time as Davidson’s first African American chaplain, was promoted to a full-time position a year later and served as founding director of the Love of Learning program for two decades. She left an indelible mark on many of us.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, February 14 at Davidson College Presbyterian Church in the Sanctuary (100 N. Main Street, Davidson):

11:00 a.m. Visitation
12:00 p.m. Funeral

A reception will be held following the service in the Congregation House (218 Concord Rd, Davidson).

“Beauty am I
Spirit am I
I am the infinite within my soul
I can find no beginning
I can find no end
All this I am.”

Professor of Biology Patricia Ann Peroni

​Patricia Ann Peroni, beloved professor and mentor, avid cyclist and hiker, enthusiastic kayaker, skilled knitter, and great friend to many died on December 24, 2019, of lung cancer.  

Pat was born on December 22, 1956, in Saranac Lake, NY to George and Frances Peroni.  Both her parents were WWII veterans and taught at Paul Smith’s College in Saranac Lake in forestry and culinary arts respectively.  Pat earned her BA in biology summa cum laude from SUNY Plattsburgh and a MLS from SUNY Albany.  

During her first job as a librarian at Bucknell University, she earned an MS in biology and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in botany from Duke University.  After a year at UNC Greensboro, she began teaching in the Biology Department at Davidson College in 1992, where she developed many courses in ecology, biostatistics, plant biology, environmental science, and introductory biology.  

Students especially loved her Dendrology course because it involved extensive field work opportunities to learn from trees.  She was also instrumental in developing and supporting Davidson’s Environmental Studies program.

Dr. Peroni’s research program focused on seeds and plants.  She published studies on the wildflower white campion, honeysuckle, maple trees, and ants.  Getting out into the woods to see the dynamics of the natural world delighted her.  She enthusiastically passed on her great appreciation for plants to her many students, colleagues, and friends. 

Pat particularly loved just being outdoors.  She became a proficient kayaker and was an avid hiker and cyclist.  She also kept a home in Galax, Virginia, so she could spend more time in the mountains.  She enjoyed creative craft projects and often visited the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts where she volunteered. 

Dozens of babies in and beyond Davidson have been warmed by her botanically accurate knitted hats resembling grapes, berries, lemons, tomatoes and more (complete with stems and leaves). 

Pat’s civic service focused on the Davidson Lands Conservancy, where she served two terms as a board member and mentored survey projects to identify and catalogue local plants.  She also willingly took on more mundane tasks involving the annual Run for the Green to support DLC’s work. 

Pat was predeceased by her parents and her older brother, Paul, who died at age five, and two much loved dogs, Hobo and Zoe.  She is survived by her dear brother Luke, his wife Jules, their children Colter and Whitney, as well as Pat’s adored pets, Palma and Jesse. 

A celebration in honor of Pat’s life will be held on Saturday, March 21, 2020, from 2:00-4:00 pm at Lake Campus.

Many will recall Pat as funny, innately generous, smart, witty, and forgiving.  Her laugh brightened our days.  Her courage and clarity of purpose at the end of her life is an inspiration to the many friends who banded together to help her navigate her final months. 

She is deeply mourned by family, colleagues, students, and friends. 


Ava Spencer, Former First Lady of Davidson College

Ava Clayton Clark Spencer of Davidson, N.C., beloved wife and steadfast partner of the late Samuel R. Spencer Jr., died on August 20, 2019. She was 94 years old.

A woman of extraordinary intellect and broad education, Ava was one of the seven children of Dr. Frank E. Clark and Ava Clark. She was born on February 25, 1925, in Grundy, Virginia, where her father, a Presbyterian minister, served as a “domestic missionary” in this rural area, founding the Presbyterian School for local children.

Her father’s work as a minister and her mother’s as a teacher instilled in Ava a profound sense of the value of education. Always a brilliant student, she completed high school at age 15 and entered Virginia Intermont College before transferring to Mary Washington College.

In May of 1944, after graduating from Mary Washington, Ava began working at Oak Ridge, Tenn., as staff support for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret development of the atomic bomb that ended World War II.

Then came two years of graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where Ava was the first woman to teach a course at the Wharton School, as an instructor in political science. Her studies at Penn led to a one-year visiting fellowship in the Government Department at Harvard. That’s when a chance meeting changed the course of her life.

At a tea hosted by the Harvard Presbyterian Chaplain in February 1948, Ava met Sam Spencer, a World War II veteran in Army Intelligence who attended Harvard on the GI bill and completed his doctorate in American Social History. After their first date, a lecture by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Sam told his roommate to start looking for someone new to share quarters.

“Why?” the roommate asked.

“Because I just met the girl I’m going to marry,” Sam said.

On August 28, 1948, Ava and Sam Spencer were married in Abingdon. They spent the next 65 years together, until Sam’s death on October 16, 2013.

That marriage also meant a choice for Ava, who turned down a fellowship to study the nature of radical politics in Chile in pursuit of her Ph.D.

After the birth of their first son, Samuel Reid Spencer III, in April of 1950, Sam and Ava moved to Davidson, where Sam served as assistant to President John Cunningham and later as Dean of Students. Their early years together in Davidson brought the addition of daughters Ellen Blakeney Spencer and Ava Clayton Spencer.

In 1957, they moved to Staunton, Virginia, where Sam served as President of Mary Baldwin College until 1968. Years later, Mary Baldwin dedicated the Samuel & Ava Spencer Center for Civic & Global Engagement, aptly recognizing Ava’s role in a partnership that helped elevate the stature of the small women’s college in the Valley of Virginia.

A second son, Frank Clark Spencer, was born in September of 1960. During the summers of their tenure at Mary Baldwin, Sam and Ava regularly led Brownell Tours of college students to Europe, including their own children in the exposure to different countries and cultures.

In 1968. Sam and Ava and their children returned to Davidson, where Sam served as president for 15 years, with Ava as the consummate partner in the intellectual life of the college and the architect of the warm and generous hospitality of the President’s House.

In 1983 their journey together took them to Richmond and the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and ultimately back to Davidson in 1988, first to a house on Lorimer Road—the same street on which they lived when they first came to Davidson in 1951—and finally to The Pines, the retirement home they had helped to found years earlier.

In 2009, a gift to Davidson from close friends Marcus and Carole Weinstein established the Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice, honoring the service, leadership, and generosity of both couples.

The marriage of Ava and Sam Spencer was the essence of unwavering love and respect, a perfect blend of two human beings ideally suited to each other. Straightforward and practical on the one hand, Ava also possessed a ready wit and a mischievous sense of humor. But her special gifts were the kindness and love she gave freely to any willing recipient.

After Sam’s death in 2013, Ava lived with determined independence, remarkable courage and unquenchable spirit until her own passing in August.

Ava is survived by children Samuel Reid Spencer III (Candice), Ellen Henschen (Gary), Clayton Spencer and Frank Spencer (Melanie); grandchildren Samuel Reid IV and James Spencer, Josef (Susan), Sam and Elizabeth Henschen, Will (Mariah) and Ava Carter, Aly Spencer (Brian Zakutansky) and Clark Spencer (Jenifer); great-grandchildren Spencer Henschen and Sam Zakutansky.

Ava Spencer was pre-deceased by husband Sam Spencer; brothers Frank Clark and Blake Clark; and sisters Caroline Stuart, Margaret Tiffany, Katherine Clark, and Eloise Clark.

A service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 14, at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

Memorial gifts may be made to the following:

Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice
Davidson College
Box 7170
Davidson NC 28035-7170

Clark Scholars
Union Presbyterian Seminary
3401 Brook Rd.
Richmond VA 23227

Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement
Mary Baldwin University
PO Box 1500
Staunton VA 24402

Mount David Named Scholars
In memory of Sam and Ava Spencer
c/o Sarah Pearson
Bates College
2 Andrews Road
Lewiston, ME 04240