Obituary: David Abraham Raboy (1941-2024)

May 9, 1941  –  April 6, 2024

David Abraham Raboy, of Newport passed away on April 6, 2024 of a heart attack. He was the husband of Ellen Leys.

Dave was born on May 9, 1941 in New York City to Lulu Morris, a former dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Co. and Mac Raboy, known for illustrating Captain Marvel and Flash Gordon comics. He graduated with a BA from The University of Toledo and an MA at Clark University in 1965.

Dave was active in civil rights activities and was proud to be part of the March on Washington in 1964. He taught Behavioral Science at Rhode Island College for 5 years until he was fired for being involved in the anti-war movement. That was fine because he found his true calling when he opened his own zoo. Combining his love for the natural world and a talent for design and construction, opened the Shankpainter Zoo in Provincetown, MA in 1971.

Shortly after that he was recruited to run the Central Texas Zoo in Waco, TX which lasted a couple of years. Texas was not the friendliest place for a Jewish guy from NY and he missed the ocean so returned to Provincetown where he was administrator of a HUD sponsored community housing rehabilitation program for low-income families, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and was the town’s rep on the Coastal Zone Management Committee. He also acquired a Captain’s License and piloted several sightseeing vessels in the summer. He was eventually offered directorship of the Burnet Park Zoo in Syracuse, NY which was about to embark on an expansion program which cost about $13 million and took 4 years to complete. He was said to “be a committed and, at times combative spokesman for the needs of the animals.” Although he was able to sail on Oneida Lake, he dreamed of boats and started building ship models to scale from architectural drawings. The models are exquisite with no details missing. In 2015 and 2018, his most recent models were accepted at the Mystic Seaport Maritime gallery and sold as part of their International Marine Art Exhibition. He built a model of the S/V Clearwater and donated it for their annual fundraiser in memory of Pete Seeger who was one of his heroes.

Finally in 1994, he was hired at his dream job, to design and develop a new zoo for Buttonwood Park in New Bedford, MA. He was hired based on his work in transforming the Syracuse Zoo. The zoo reopened in 2000 and was later accredited by the AZA. Dave retired in 2004 and moved to Newport to be with Ellen Leys whom he married in 2009. He stayed busy in retirement, customizing a couple of RVs in which they traveled back and forth across the country and into Canada among other projects.

In addition to Ellen, he is survived by two sons, Joshua and Aaron Raboy, stepdaughter Misty Phelps, and stepson Max Kaplan.

A Celebration of Life will be planned at a later date. Donations may be made in his memory to the Southern Poverty Law Center,




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