Five years after being appointed president of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, Ferdinand Colloredo-Mansfeld was spending about half his time elsewhere in the country because of the company’s expansive reach.
Constantly traveling for the powerful Boston development firm was challenging, but “if asked if I would do it all over again, the answer would be an unqualified ‘yes,’ ” he wrote in 1981, for the 20th anniversary report of his Harvard College class.
A few years later, he was equally enthusiastic. “My activities in business have been demanding, harrowing, rewarding — sometimes great fun; never dull; always instructive,” he wrote. “No regrets!”
Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld, who led real estate firm Cabot, Cabot & Forbes for more than 13 years, and also founded and served as CEO of Cabot Industrial Trust, died Dec. 26 in his Hamilton home. He was 78 and his health had been failing.
Though he spent more than 35 years as a significant figure locally and nationally in real estate development, his resume of civic involvement was even longer.
“Believing that one should contribute back to the community and the society that we live and work in, I have often had unimagined challenges and sometimes great excitement in working with nonprofit organizations and service agencies,” he wrote in 1986.
Along with John H. McArthur, a Harvard Business School dean emeritus, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld was the founding cochairman of the board of Partners HealthCare, the 1994 partnership that brought about the affiliation of Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Prior to that, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld had been chairing the MGH board.
Over the years, he had also been a trustee at the Boston Athenaeum and at his alma mater, the Groton School, and he formerly chaired the Boston Compact, a 1982 agreement that fostered stronger connections between the city’s public schools and business community. In exchange for schools increasing achievement scores and lowering dropout rates, businesses gave priority to hiring graduates of Boston’s schools.
“The challenges to our educational system and health care industry have never been more rigorous, volatile, or competitive than they are today,” he wrote in 1986, suggesting that his former college classmates also become involved. “If you are looking for action, you’ve got plenty in trying to deal with the current demands placed upon our health and educational institutions.”
Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld had served on the boards of companies including Raytheon Corp. and Data General Corp., and he formerly chaired the Private Industry Council, which developed and coordinated employment opportunities and job training programs for youths.
“He was a man of tremendous dignity,” said his son Franz, the president, CEO, and cofounder of Cabot Properties. “He was very much dedicated to helping others, being part of the community in Boston, and having a positive impact.”
Though born into Austrian nobility, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld’s childhood brought him from wartime England to Boston, then to a farm in British Columbia and back to Massachusetts.
His father was Count Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, an engineer who graduated from Harvard and married Mabel Bradley, whose family held coal and lumber interests in West Virginia.
Born in London in 1939, the youngest of three siblings, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld was a boy when his father, a Spitfire pilot for England’s Royal Air Force, was shot down and killed in 1944 while flying a mission off the coast of France during World War II.
With his older siblings and their nanny, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld had left England a few years earlier, in 1940, and traveled by ship to Boston to live with their maternal grandparents. His mother remarried at the end of the war, and the family moved to a dairy farm on Vancouver Island.
His childhood there included farm chores, driving the family milk truck by age 10, and getting to school by hitching rides on lumber trucks or taking a skiff across a bay. After his mother and stepfather separated, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld returned to Massachusetts with his mother and siblings.
He found his footing academically at Groton School, where, because of his size, he was called Moose — a nickname he went by with many acquaintances as an adult. At 6 foot 8, he was an imposing presence, though a 1975 Globe profile of up-and-coming community leaders characterized him as modest — “some would describe him as painfully shy.”
He graduated from Groton in 1957 and from Harvard in 1961. The following year, he married Susanna Lawrence. “Our three children never cease to amaze me,” he wrote in 1986, and added: “I hasten to say that my wife Susanna’s enormous commitment and firm dedication have been and continue to be the great strength of our family.”
Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld began his business career at Hitchiner Manufacturing in New Hampshire before going to Harvard Business School, from which he graduated in 1965. Afterward, he worked for the private banking firm Brown Brothers Harriman but decided “there were conditions in the community and society around us that needed new skills and attention,” he wrote in 1971 for a class report. “Stock brokering did not seem to provide the tools and experience necessary to meet those situations around us.”
He joined Cabot, Cabot & Forbes in 1970 and left the company at the end of 1989, after Marshall Field V of Chicago took control of the firm’s operations. Diagnosed with cancer in the early 1990s, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld dealt with medical treatments and difficulties in the real estate market through part of that decade. He retired in 2001, after Cabot Industrial Trust was acquired in a $2.1 billion deal.
At the end of the 1980s, he also became chairman of the Boston Coordinating Committee. Better known as the Vault, the organization served as the arm of significant city business interests in advocating to set a public agenda.
Drawn to the outdoors all his life, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld worked to preserve open land in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he and his family skied for years. He also was an avid sailor and horseman, and shared the latter interest with his daughter, Annie Penfield of Strafford, Vt., who runs a saddlery business.
“He was a huge influence on me, not only with horses, but in my business life,” she said. “He had a very authentic love of the outdoors. He was always a modest man and very kind with animals, and that was prevalent in the time we spent riding.”
Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld’s other son, Rudi, who is senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs and an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said his father always “wanted to make things possible for us. He really loved it when we had ideas for something adventurous to do.”
In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld leaves his brother, Rudolf Colloredo-Mannsfeld of Sierndorf, Austria, and 10 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 14 in the chapel at the Groton School.
For his children and grandchildren, Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld’s great height held a distinct advantage. “When I was a little girl, it was nice to have a tall dad because it was really easy to find him in a crowded room,” Annie said.
“You could navigate to Dad the way you could navigate to a mountain,” Rudi added.
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