Mac Abel, ‘1st citizen of Concord,’ dies at 96

“We lost the First Citizen of Concord,” said Mike Karnitz about his friend, Gene “Mac” Abel.

Mac was the “face” of Historic Concord Village and a founder of the Farragut Folklife Museum. He passed away at the age of 96 on Monday, Sept. 18.

He was known as a local historian due to his extensive knowledge of the community. Mac worked to form the Old Concord Residents Association and was part of a group that placed Concord on the National Register of Historic Places, the only historic zoning overlay district outside of Knoxville’s city limits.

After a 33-year career at the University of Tennessee Libraries, Mac retired in 1978 as Associate Director. He was an active member at Concord Presbyterian Church. He also served in numerous volunteer capacities at Farragut Folklife Museum, Pleasant Forest Cemetery board, Concord Telephone Exchange board and in various alumni groups.

Fred Wickert lived with the Abels in the 60s when he came as an exchange student from Brazil and has returned to visit a few times.

“Mac was a person who knew how to listen, something we very often forget,” he said. “He would listen, explain, [teach], and learn, all in one. He always had time, and [took] pleasure to look for answers in a very structured and thoughtful way.”

Doris Woods Owens grew up in Concord Village and knew Mac from a young age.

“Several different times, my aunt would see Mac coming down the street from the grocery stores and would always alert us by saying, ‘Here comes Mackie.’” Owens recalled. “We stopped playing and rushed to the edge of the yard, all greeting, ‘Hi, Mackie.’ He was so friendly and returned our greeting. Then, TVA put a halt to those great times at our grandparents’ homes in Concord. Both the McNutt family and my parents lived on the south side of the railroad [which was flooded to create Fort Loudoun Lake].”

“When it came to becoming Farragut, he embraced it,” Farragut Mayor Ralph McGill said. “Some people didn’t like the outcome, and it was largely the people who’d been there for a long time. Over the years, they’ve come to embrace it. In his case, he embraced from the beginning. He was one of the principals in getting the Farragut Folklife Museum started.”

“I don’t think anyone realizes the wealth of information that left this earth when he was granted his wings into Heaven,” said longtime acquaintance Mona Isbel Smith. “You see, anytime I had a question on the history of this area, he was always my go-to person.  I could sit and listen to him talk for hours, just fascinated by everything that he knew and retained.

“I prize his autographed book, ‘The Village of Concord, Where Time Stood Still,’ written by Mr. Abel and illustrated by his lovely wife [of 63 years, the late] Frances [Abel], Smith added. “Together, they were quite the team — always active in community and church events. It is an understatement when I say I will miss him.  

“As long as I live, there will be times when I have a question and will want to turn to him for the answer.  I just wish Heaven had e-mail — but then maybe not.” 

“Although he was short in stature, he was a true spiritual giant,” said the Rev. Chuck Farmer, pastor of Concord Presbyterian Church. “The scriptures tell us that we will be known by our fruits. Mr. Mac bore the fruits of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ [Galatians 5:22] in such a way that to be with him made you want to be a better person.

“He will be dearly missed, and often remembered by our congregation,” Farmer added.

Mac grew up in Knoxville, and as a boy rode his bike from his house to Concord, where he spent weeks during the summer with both sets of grandparents.

He stocked the stove at Concord Presbyterian Church with firewood during cold months and stood on his grandfather’s shoulders to ring the church bell.

The magnolia tree he climbed as a child still stands at Rocky Point Park off of Northshore Drive.

Mac attended Old Knoxville High School, graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1943 and married Frances Larson Abel the following year.

He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946.

After World War II, Mac’s parents purchased a home, built in 1866 and located at 10817 Third Drive in Concord. Mac and Frances and their two children, Bob and Carol, moved into an upstairs apartment and made their home in Concord.

Mac attended the University of Chicago, where he earned his master’s degree in Library Science. Upon returning to Concord, Mac and Frances built a home at 10801 Third Drive and raised their family there.

In 1973, when their children were grown, they returned to restore the family’s historic home. In the years that followed, they hosted many groups and coordinated tours for schools and organizations in the community.

Mac continued to live in the family home in Concord and attend Concord Presbyterian Church until his final days. His daughter and two of his granddaughters now live in the village with their families.

He is survived by son, Bob Abel; daughter, Carol Russell; five grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

Friends are invited to leave a comment on the “Share a Memory” tab at In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Concord Presbyterian Church. 

Also preceding Mac in death are parents, L. Claude and Jean McNutt Abel, and sisters, Anne Mary Abel Akana and Carol Madison Abel.

Visitation and the memorial service were held in Concord Presbyterian Church Saturday, Sept. 23, with his son, the Rev. Bob Abel, and the Rev. Chuck Farmer officiating.