“The Native” Takes Her Leave at 97
Educator, Author Esther Wood Dies

 By James Straub

Esther Wood

BLUE HILL—For the past 40 years, Harry True has traveled from his home in Fryeburg once a month to visit his favorite teacher in Blue Hill.

He made his final visit yesterday (Wednesday) to speak at her funeral.

Well known teacher, author and historian Esther Wood died at her home at Friend’s Corner Sunday, Dec. 1. She was 97.

True met Wood when he enrolled at Gorham Teachers College after serving in the Navy during World War II.

Like many veterans, he was unsure of his future. Wood taught history at the school.

True said he struggled through his freshman year, relying heavily on the help he received from Wood.

Before the start of his second year, he was called back into the Navy to serve in the Korean conflict.

Unknown to him at the time, Wood called Senator Margaret Chase Smith, an influential member of the Armed Forces committee.

Eight days after he was called into service, he received a call from a Navy captain.

“I don’t know who you know in high places,” the captain said to True, “but I’m sending you back to college.”

True said the incident changed his life completely. He believes that had he gone back to active duty, he never would have attended college again.

Instead, he graduated in 1953, having taken every course taught by Wood.

True retired in 1992 after a distinguished career in education, including headmaster jobs at Fryeburg Academy and Maine Central Institute. He also served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives.

 As an educator, he continued to rely on Wood for advice.

“I always told her she should’ve been commissioner of education,” he said.

Former George Stevens Academy Headmaster David Hitchings would agree.

He said he first met Wood within hours of taking on the GSA headmaster’s job in 1977.

He turned to her for help in writing a history of Stevens Academy for the student handbook.

The brief but descriptive history provided by Wood has been included in every handbook since, Hitchings said.

“In our first meeting, I discovered her love for George Stevens Academy,” Hitchings said. “From that point on, I could see how much in love she was with the academy. She was always there for the students.”

Her support took several forms.

She gave financial support to the school’s expansion projects and construction of tennis courts. She also donated land to the academy that is being used to create athletic fields and a cross-country track.

“She made tremendous financial contributions,” said Emil Andy who served as assistant headmaster at GSA for nearly 30 years.

“She was such a wonderful resource for the community. She will be missed at GSA. She was a big supporter and a wonderful friend.”

Her philanthropy was always offered anonymously. Personally helping a student always came first.

Hugh Curran, a professor at the University of Maine and resident of Surry, came to know Wood intimately while compiling an oral history.

Over several years, he videotaped Wood, compiling 50 hours of tape that was edited into four 40-minute videos.

The taped interviews and an accompanying book are available at the Blue Hill Library and the George Stevens library.

“She had an influence on me,” Curran said. “I regarded her as a second mother in some ways.”

Curran described Wood as a fount of information on the history of the Blue Hill area.

“Her memory straddled 200 years,” he said.

 Wood’s memory of local lore came from first-hand accounts from her grandfather who was born in the early 1800s and her father, born in the 1850s.

Eager to record a history of George Stevens Academy, Wood underwrote the oral history project. Though it started as a history of the academy, it quickly became a history of Blue Hill.

“The uniqueness to me,” Curran said, “was her almost total recall. She could speak for an hour and not repeat herself. She had an incredible memory. I’d choose a subject, and she’d talk non-stop for nearly an hour.”

Wood was a founding member of the Jonathan Fisher Memorial in Blue Hill and remained active in the organization until her death.

Board member Bill Petry said Wood’s last request of the board was that Jonathan Fisher’s journals be translated from his personal code and published.

“We were working on that right up to when she died,” Petry said. “It was her last project with the Fisher House, and she was active right up to the end.”

Wood maintained her membership in the Blue Hill Baptist Church throughout her life.

“She was just a matriarch of the community—just a treasure,” Pastor Paul Comeau said. “She was such a grand storyteller. Being with her and in her presence was just a joy.”

Wood gave financial support to the church and the American Baptist Women, but she is remembered most for her personal contributions.

She organized the American Baptist Women chapter in Blue Hill and often hosted meetings at her house.

Whatever role she took on, the guiding light of her personality would shine through.

“She always was a teacher,” said Lucy Ledien, a member of the Baptist Church and GSA Board of Trustees.

“At the ABW meetings, she always had a lesson to teach.”

   

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