December 22, 2011

The six-decade romance of James H. and Mickey Cates Abbott began like a Hollywood movie.

Mickey Cates Abbott and James H. Abbott

“I spotted her from across the rotunda in Dallas Hall,” James says. “She had an art class on the east side, and I was walking from class on the west side. After that, I made sure to walk down the stairs on her side.”

A few years later they would walk down the aisle together at Perkins Chapel, one of the first couples to be married in the church after it opened in 1951. Sixty years later to the day – June 16, 2011 – the Abbotts returned to the chapel for the first time since their wedding and spent the afternoon reminiscing.

It was a warm June day when family and friends gathered as James and Mickey repeated their vows. SMU President Umphrey Lee officiated.

Lee, a respected Methodist scholar, had a fan in the Abbott household. “My mother idolized Umphrey Lee,” James says. “He was the most charming man, and we became friends, so I asked him if he would perform the ceremony.”

Leading up to their marriage was a courtship that advanced from Dallas Hall to dates at Turtle Creek and drives through Oak Cliff in a Hudson with an inline-eight engine, which car buff James vividly recalls.

Having earned a Bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado, James was pursuing a Master’s in mathe-matics at SMU, which he received in 1949. Mickey’s creative talents led her to art and theatre with a focus on costume design. She earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in 1949.

The couple remembers the influx of military veterans to campus after World War II – James served a stint in the Navy. Their paths crossed with fellow students Doak Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1948, and Aaron Spelling, with whom Mickey worked on Arden Club productions.

After graduation, Mickey applied her fashion background as a buyer with the Titche-Goettinger department store chain. James taught at Texas A&M before earning his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Illinois. He went on to teach there and at Purdue, the University of New Mexico and the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest at the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 1965 they moved to New Orleans, where James served as chair of the mathematics department at the University of New Orleans and is professor emeritus of mathematics.

Now retired, the Abbotts divide their time between New Orleans and the Dallas area.