Edward Harrison Able, Jr., who headed the American Association of Museums (now The American Alliance of Museums) for two decades died this past Friday at age 72. The cause of death was not immediate announced.
Able was respected in the nonprofit community and recognized for his years of service as a professional and as a volunteer. The NonProfit Times selected him to its Power & Influence Top 50 list eight years in a row beginning in 1998.
Under his leadership, “AAM grew dramatically and is now the largest museum association in the world,” said Laura L. Lott, president of AAM. Able’s reach “extended even further as he worked to amplify the voices of associations through his service to many nonprofit organizations and alliances,” she said.
According to Ford W. Bell who succeeded Able and ran AAM until 2015, he “really gets a lot of credit for professionalizing the work of the organization” which was 100 years old when Able took the job. Bell called Able’s time at AAM “an amazing tenure” and described the transition between the two as “very seamless.”
Able served on the boards of The National Center for Non-Profit Boards (now BoardSource), the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the National Humanities Alliance, the National Cultural Alliance and Independent Sector.
Able was a Fellow of ASAE and was given its highest honor, the Key Award, for outstanding performance and contribution to the field of association management. “Ed Able was a friend and colleague for over 25 years. He contributed greatly to the profession of association management as well as the broader charitable community,” said John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, president and chief executive officer of ASAE. “He was especially diligent about maintaining the ethical standards so important to the public’s trust in philanthropy. He will be missed by our community but his many contributions will live for years.”
He was presented with lifetime achievement awards by several regional associations of museums, The Chairman’s Medal from the National Endowment for the Arts, and numerous other awards. Able was appointed by the United States Secretary of State to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission on the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
A 1967 graduate of Emory University, Able moved from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill for Sen. Richard Russell, Jr. (D-Ga.). He received a direct appointment into the United States Army and served for three years, including a tour in Vietnam. He returned to Washington, D.C., to work for Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.).
Able’s start in the nonprofit space in the was Education Program Department in the Smithsonian Associates Program. After leaving the Smithsonian, he became the executive director of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Able became president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Museums in 1986. He had been working as a consultant since his retirement from AAM.