In 1917, when Esther Emma Wooley was born, Germans had attacked U.S. ships in the Atlantic Ocean and World War I was escalating. To avoid the perception that they were German, Esther, her twin sister and older brother had to stop speaking German and learn to speak better English. Growing up during the Depression in Detroit, Mich., with her five siblings, everyone in her family pitched in with canning produce from her father’s green grocer business. When her father died when she was 14, Esther learned to be responsible for her brothers and sisters and to help her mother deal with his loss.
After graduating high school, Esther went to business school and became a crackerjack secretary. She was proud of her ability to type 100 words per minute and she still took dictation into her 60s. When Esther came to Los Angeles on her honeymoon with Richard Wooley, she cried when she saw the palm trees. And it wasn’t tears of joy. She missed the pine trees and maples of her native Michigan, and thought the palm trees looked strange. But Esther grew to love the beach and its proximity to her first apartment with her husband.
Before long, there were three then four in the Wooley clan in Los Angeles, with the addition of two daughters to Esther and Richard’s family. It was important to Esther to be a good mother, and it was one of her greatest joys in life. She devoted herself wholeheartedly to that lifelong task. And she nurtured her marriage, just as she nurtured her children. Esther always remembered to tell her husband Richard that she loved him each and every day. When granddaughter Kylee was born, Esther doted on her from the moment she saw Kylee as an infant.
“Every time we visited Grammy and Grampy for Christmas,” Kylee remembers fondly, “Grammy always made sure that there was something interesting for me to do. Whether it was painting our nails or playing grocery shop with a toy cash register, we always had so much fun. I remember the excitement of putting on Grammy’s fox fur shrug and high-heeled shoes for our special tea parties together. If there’s one thing I learned from Grammy, it was how to be a real lady.”
Esther will always be remembered for her kindness to others. Immediately after Thanksgiving each year, she would begin baking and then freezing 14 kinds of Christmas cookies so she could fill big boxes for neighbors and friends, including her postman and gardener. Every Christmas, people looked forward to receiving her unique and delicious cookies.
Esther loved making her gardens beautiful with colorful and fragrant flowers, shopping in Beverly Hills, dressing like a lady, cooking and eating well. She wore makeup, including foundation, until the end of her life. One of the last things Esther asked for was her favorite vibrant pink lipstick. She always wore lipstick whenever she was going to see someone.
Her sense of humor was with her until the end of her life on April 21, 2014. Esther asked when her funeral would be when she was in the hospital earlier that month and joked about dancing with the EMTs who brought her home from the hospital.
Esther’s caregivers fondly say, “She was an elegant, gracious woman and always a lady.”
A close family friend who knew Esther from the time she was a newlywed recounts, “Her faith sustained her.” She spent many an afternoon writing in the family Bible, and her family treasures her words of wisdom.
Esther Wooley inspired everyone who knew her, especially her daughters and granddaughter, to be kind, gracious, courageous and always elegant. We’ll miss you, Mom and Grammy, and you will always live in our hearts.
Esther is survived by her daughter Susan Hamilton, and her husband, Vernon (of Tucson, Ariz.), and their daughter, Kylee (currently at college in St. Andrews, Scotland); her daughter Cynthia Wooley and her husband, Alan Gilmore (of Albuquerque, N.M.); her sister Mildred Kontak (of Indianapolis, Ind.) and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held for Esther Wooley on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum.