In Memoriam: Dr. Abbie's Lasting Legacy
- Aug 23, 2021
Beloved Mensa booster and innovator Dr. Abbie F. Salny passed away Sunday, Aug. 22, at her home in Wayne, N.J. She was 96.
Affectionately known by most as Dr. Abbie, she was a former American Mensa supervisory psychologist, past Mensa International Honorary president, and namesake of the Abbie Award for Proctor of the Year. Dr. Abbie was the only two-time winner of American Mensa’s top honor, the Margot Award.
A Life Member of American Mensa, Dr. Abbie contributed to the organization in myriad capacities since joining in 1964. She served as both American Mensa’s and Mensa International’s supervisory psychologist from 1978 to 2002.
“Abbie loved people, and she naturally knew what made them tick, so her psychology studies were a supplement to her inborn gifts,” said Stacey Kirsch, fellow Mensan and Dr. Abbie’s longtime friend. “And people loved Abbie, as no matter how long it had been since she had seen you, she remembered you. She made everyone feel that they mattered to her — and they really did matter to her very much. She gave great advice only when asked, and she always knew whether tact or directness would be more effective or valued.”
A member of Northern New Jersey Mensa, Dr. Abbie was particularly impactful during her 26 years on the board of the Mensa Education & Research Foundation. She was instrumental in the creation of the Foundation’s scholarship program, its Awards for Excellence in Research, and the Distinguished Teacher Award. She also helped extend the Foundation’s efforts beyond the United States to an international footprint.
“Dr. Abbie’s leadership and innovation and impact are almost impossible to measure,” said Trevor Mitchell, Executive Director of American Mensa. “She’ll be missed in so many ways.”
Naturally, Dr. Abbie held several leadership positions in American Mensa and Mensa International. She served on American Mensa’s board of directors as Recording Secretary from 1972 to 1975 and was Director of Science and Education from 1983 to 1987. She was Mensa International’s Honorary Vice President from 2003 to 2006 and named Honorary President in 2006.
In 1985 American Mensa awarded her the prestigious Margot award, named after the organization’s first executive director, Margot Seitelman. Three decades later, Dr. Abbie was honored with a second Margot for her continued record of service and inspiration, becoming the only two-time winner. In 1990 she received the Distinguished Service Award. Then in 2000 American Mensa recognized her by creating the Abbie Award for Proctor of the Year. She was its first recipient.
The author or co-author of several best-selling quiz and puzzle books, Dr. Abbie used her talents to benefit Mensa. She launched the Mensa Genius Quiz Book series in 1981 and contributed to subsequent versions. She authored Mensa Page-A-Day calendars from 1995 to 2001. (If you’ve ever worked the Mensa quiz on an American Airlines flight, you can thank Dr. Abbie.) She also developed the International Culture Fair test used by Mensa International for recruiting.
She was a fixture at many Mensa Annual Gatherings, giving her popular talk, “Dumb Things Smart People Do” — a hilarious recognition of how she and others disengaged their smart brains.
Born July 3, 1925, in New York City, Abbie Feinstein Salny was the daughter of Carl and Edith Feinstein. Her mother was a teacher and master gardener, and her father was a textile machinery dealer who often took a young Abbie on business trips, during which she would read maps and calculate mileage for her father.
Abbie’s sharp mind showed itself in other ways as a child. At age 4, Abbie was brought along by a babysitting aunt on a dinner date to New York. The aunt’s date offered Abbie a free meal if she could read from the menu. Sitting in her Dr. Denton pajamas, Abbie read off one of the most-expensive entrees, to her date’s chagrin but the waiter’s delight. Perhaps a harbinger, fine dining remained a constant in her life. She later became a certified sommelier and a gourmet cook, specializing in French cuisine.
Travel, too, was a large part of her life. She went to Paris as a young woman and later kept an apartment there for several years. She first joined Mensa in 1958 while living in the United Kingdom.
She graduated from New York University in 1949 then earned her master’s and doctorate in psychology from Montclair State and Rutgers University, respectively. She later was a professor at Montclair State University from 1966 to 1979 before maintaining a private practice from 1979 until 1996.
“She lived a wonderful life, overcoming many adversities with grace learned from her loving parents,” said longtime friend Kirsch. “At 6, she had scarlet fever and lived all her life with the resulting loss of feeling in her fingertips, but that didn't stop her from learning to type very well.
“Eventually she lost most of her sight, and that coincided with the advent of computers, so she never did use one, much to her regret, but she embraced Alexa, her constant companion for the last 4 years. When she wasn't on the phone with her many friends, or watching her beloved Jeopardy! or Judge Judy, Alexa read books of all kinds to her. She especially loved biographies, nonfiction, and humor, and keeping her supplied with good, new material was a constant challenge. I will miss her, but I hope to read some of those books and think of her when I do.”
Widow of Seymour Shapiro, Dr. Abbie married Jerome Salny on July 12, 1973, in West Orange, N.J. Jerome died in 2005. She met both husbands in Mensa.
“Abbie was Mensa’s RBG, that commanding figure (who stood less than 5 ft tall) who was thoughtful and forceful,” said Pam Donahoo, who was American Mensa’s Executive Director for 20 years until 2017. “She was generous with a rapier-sharp wit — she fenced in college and would have appreciated that double meaning! She was obviously brilliant, and her prolific puzzle-writing helped get Mensa publicity and recruit members for decades.
“My life is better because I had the opportunity to work with and know Abbie Salny. I hope she and Jerry are enjoying a bottle of French wine once again,” Donahoo said.
Dr. Abbie was preceded in death by her brother, Robert Feinstein. She is survived by a nephew, Noah Feinstein, his wife Ariel, and their children Hailey, Jacob, and Lucas; by nephew and niece David Shapiro and Miriam Viktora; and by Charles and Pat Wolfrum and their children, Ryan and Rachel. Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Salny Scholarship through the Mensa Foundation.