Abraham Bates, 81, accountant, human rights activist

December 24, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Abraham Bates, the son of fur traders in Mongolia who was inspired to a life as a human rights activist by witnessing the brutal Japanese invasion of China, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Howard County. He was 81.

Mr. Bates, born Abraham Bihovsky, of Russian-Jewish ancestry, was studying economics in China at the time of the 1937 invasion. He changed his name and became an accountant after moving to the United States the next year.

Locally, he was assistant director of the Maryland Academy of Sciences from 1965 to 1974, and then director of finance for Planned Parenthood of Maryland until retiring in 1986.

Although his background was in finance, Mr. Bates taught himself to be a paleontologist. His home in Woodbine is a museum of whale bones and sharks teeth from the Miocene era.

He also was a harmonica-playing statistician, and memorized the verses of Robert Frost.

Most significantly, friends and family members said, Mr. Bates was an idealist -- a vigorous campaigner for liberal causes such as population control and civil liberties. But he could share a laugh with people who disagreed with him.

Marvin White, a professor of engineering at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said Mr. Bates, a friend of his for decades, would often talk about how the killings he saw in China during the 1930s inspired his political activism.

"To see the horrors of that war, and especially the starvation that went on with the Japanese invasion, played on his mind and made him more sensitive. He really wanted to work for peace and the social welfare of people around the globe," Mr. White said.

Mr. Bates' daughter, Victoria Levy of Los Altos, Calif., said: "He wanted a wiser world."

His parents, Solomon and Rebecca Bihovsky, fled from Russia to Mongolia to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1905. The family survived by trading tea for wild Mongolian dog skins, which were sold to coat makers who marketed them in New York as "Mongolian fox" and "Mongolian mink," said his son, William A. Bates of Mount Airy.

When the Japanese stormed into China before the outbreak of World War II, Abraham Bates was in Tientsin, China, studying at a British-run college. The British forced him to serve in a military brigade organized to defend English property from the Japanese. He never saw combat, but became ill standing in water-filled trenches.

He moved to New York City in 1938 and worked as an accountant for a number of companies, including Atlas Aircraft.

He made Woodbine his home in 1961.

As assistant director of the Academy of Sciences, he helped raise money for the creation of the Maryland Science Center.

Later, as chief financial officer for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, he led the organization out of a financial crisis -- it was more than $100,000 in debt -- into such health that it expanded from one clinic to six, said Dan Pellegrom, former executive director of the agency.

"He was a very interesting man," said Mr. Pellegrom. "You normally associate financial officers with conservative politics. But he was very liberal. His calculations were impeccable. But his office was a mess."

Mr. Bates was concerned with more than the agency's bottom line. He campaigned for population-control issues, even after he retired from Planned Parenthood. He volunteered to help the United Nations establish family planning clinics in the Philippines.

He also volunteered for the Howard County Peace Action Committee, American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Bates was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, 7246 Cradlerock Way, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife of 47 years, the former Virginia Neumann; another daughter, Natalie Bates Reatig of Washington; a brother, Martin Bates of Buffalo, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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