PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — Family and friends of Esther R. Tallamy gathered at Riverside Cemetery, Lewiston, Saturday morning, Sept. 16, and shortly thereafter in Topsham, for a celebration of her life.
Ms. Tallamy was born in Lewiston, Nov. 13, 1917, the daughter of long-term Bates College Dean Harry W. Rowe, Bates 1912, and Hope Chandler Rowe. Ms.Tallamy died peacefully without suffering on Jan. 30 on a beautiful, warm, sun-dappled day in Palm Springs, Calif., with a family member and their beloved Yorkshire terrier, “Toto,” by her side, which was how she wanted her last chapter to conclude.
From her father Ms. Tallamy gained a deep appreciation of history and responsibility to community. From her mother Ms. Tallamy received an understanding of and commitment to family and friends. These two aspects of Ms.Tallamy’s life, along with her own adventurous and ebullient spirit, would inform both her professional and personal life for nearly 10 decades. For example, Ms. Tallamy never forgot a birthday or anniversary for members of her large, extended family; and another: in the 1980s she organized the well-attended Chandler family reunion, not repeated before nor since, on the site of the 19th-century Chandler farm in Presque Isle.
After graduation from Bates College in 1940, Ms. Tallamy, soon to be a “war bride,” moved to Boston and then Long Island, N.Y., to be near her husband, Ted Stevens, prior to his being shipped to the European War Theater. In New York she became a volunteer for Girl Scouts of Long Island progressing from one capacity to another and becoming one of 10 in the country to train board and committee members in best practices for organizations to provide effective services. She then became a professional staff member.
In 1958, following graduate courses in social work at New York State University, Ms.Tallamy began a full-time career as a social worker for Suffolk County, N.Y., child welfare services. A friend reports the context in which they worked, namely, they were idealistic, heady times with a clear community mandate for social work to apply what earnest and innovative effort could be employed to counter the socioeconomic ills in Cold War America. Subsequently, Ms. Tallamy took on many new assignments including protective services for the elderly. In retirement she returned to her volunteer roots working for several organizations on Long Island including the Battered Women’s Shelter and the Interfaith Nutrition Network. She also was a transporter and companion of former institutionalized mental health patients then living in adult homes and she checked on homebound elderly.
Committed as she was to a responsible professional life, Ms.Tallamy, never conventional, was equally enamored of the delights and pleasures life had to offer. Her father once commented that “Esther matriculated at Bates College and extracurriculated at (the then all-male) Bowdoin College.” Single again after divorce from her second husband and while still maintaining a rigorous work schedule, Ms. Tallamy delved into her lifelong interest in travel. Whenever she could she would “escape” to Bermuda, the Caribbean islands or Florida as well as to visit her parents and other family members in Maine for holidays. Asked what the favorite parts of her life were, Ms. Tallamy would say without hesitation: “travel and jazz.” In the 1970s Esther discovered jazz cruises and subsequently jazz clubs on Long Island and in New York City. She met her friend, Warren Chiasson, a pianist and vibraphone artist from New York City, and joined him for jazz events all over the Northeast as his companion and promoter of his performances and recordings.
Upon retirement Ms. Tallamy vowed she would not sit the entire year “looking at these four walls” and purchased a large motor home. She spent the next 27 years traveling to every continental state including Alaska and to Mexico. She did this on her own or participated in a number of RV groups including “Loners on Wheels,” dedicated to singles on the road. She developed a vast and welcome network of new “fellow travelers,” became the historian for one RV club, treasurer and president of others. Ms. Tallamy also used this time to visit members of her extended family: cousins distant and near, nephews and nieces and in turn their children and built a new and abiding relationship with the Canadian branch of the family.
In her early 90s, Ms. Tallamy became increasingly more limited physically and by 93 it was time to “hang up the keys.” Ms. Tallamy planned to stay in the house on Long Island she and her husband, Ken, had built 55 years earlier, bringing in outside help to be able to stay there in her later years. Then Hurricane Sandy struck, damaging her house, with her in it, enough so to render it uninhabitable. Her nephew, Alden in Palm Springs, Calif., had encouraged her for some time to eschew the cold New York months for the California desert. Hurricane Sandy forced the issue. On Ms. Tallamy’s 95th birthday she and Alden flew to Palm Springs where Ms. Tallamy settled in with Alden and his partner, AJ (Larry) Kaasa for over three years and subsequently, until Ms. Tallamy’s death, at the home of Phil and Judy Anderson of Cathedral City, Calif. The family acknowledges with profound gratitude the Andersons’ wonderful care of Ms. Tallamy for the last 18 months of her life.
Ms. Tallamy prospered in the desert. She relished the sun by the pool, rides top-down in the classic Thunderbird, the mountains, her favorite old-time Hollywood restaurant and she enjoyed new travel experiences, this time chauffeured, through the desert terrain, the southern California coast, to the Colorado River and even a Christmas in Las Vegas.
Ms.Tallamy was predeceased by her husbands, Edward (Ted) Stevens and Kenneth Tallamy, her parents, her brother, Robert Alden Rowe, and her sister, Ruth Rowe Wilson, Bates ’36.
She leaves behind 17 nieces and nephews, an equal number of great-nieces and nephews, 10 great-great-nieces and nephews, numerous cousins and many friends whose lives were made richer by her presence.
Esther R. Tallamy