Remembering Esta Burroughs

Esta Burroughs — pillar of the famed Remarkable Book Shop, and mother of noted Westport artist/graphic designer Miggs Burroughs — died earlier today. She was 102.

On March 15, 2013 — her 100th birthday — I posted this story on “06880.” It’s a great way to remember a truly “remarkable” woman.

Esta Freedman’s mother left Poland for Ellis Island at 17.  Esta’s father worked in the gold mines of South Africa as a teenager.  He stowed away on a US-bound ship, but gambled away his nest egg before it docked.

Esta was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1913. She and her 4 siblings shared a room. At 17, she left home for New York.

Esta Freedman at 17.

Esta Freedman at 17.

A chance meeting in the subway led to a meeting with Bernie Burroughs, an illustrator.  They hit it off.  Soon they eloped.  They lived in Greenwich Village, then Neptune, N.J.  In 1946 their son Miggs was born.

Bernie’s artist friends were moving to Connecticut.   The Burroughses followed:  to Stamford in 1948, then Westport in 1950 when their 2nd son Tracy was born.

Bernie and Esta quickly joined the local artists and writers’ circle, making friends with the likes of Howard Munce, Tracy Sugarman, Max Shulman, Evan Hunter, John G. Fuller and their families.

Bernie played poker; Esta, bridge.  They entertained often, and went to parties.  At some, couples put car keys in a bowl, and drove home with the owner of whichever set they pulled out.  Esta says she and Bernie always left before that happened.

She wrote articles for local newsletters.  Then she met Sidney and Esther Kramer.   They were opening a bookstore, called Remarkable — the name included “Kramer” spelled backwards — and asked her to join them.

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

Esta stayed in the iconic pink building on Main Street — working in the warren of rooms, loving the tall stacks of books, sloping floors and comfy chairs — until the day it closed.

She also partnered with Pat Fay — running tag sales as “Those 2 Girls” — but her Remarkable work really defined Esta Burroughs for generations of Westporters.

She waited on Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis, Keir Dullea, Christopher Plummer and Patty Hearst.  She also massaged the egos of many local authors, who visited constantly to check on sales of their books.

An avid reader, Esta enjoyed meeting writers.  The opportunity to read any title was a great perk — and a huge advantage for customers.  They asked countless questions about books.  She answered them all.

After Remarkable closed, Esta worked at the Save the Children Gift Shop.  Until recently she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society.

Today, Esta Burroughs turns 100.  The Remarkable Book Shop is long gone.  So are Paul Newman, Bette Davis — and key parties.

But Esta remembers them all, quite clearly.  Those memories are all part of her 6 decades in Westport — and her much-loved, seldom-acknowledged contributions to our town.

(Burial will be private. A memorial service will be announced soon, to be held at the Westport Historical Society. Contributions in her name may be made to an Alzheimer’s organization.)

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs!

Esta Burroughs (Photo by Miggs Burroughs)

23 responses to “Remembering Esta Burroughs

  1. I am so sorry to learn of Esta’s passing. In addition to all that Dan wrote about her, she was a wonderful volunteer at Dress for Success Mid-Fairfield County when it was located in the Compo Shopping Center. She was always cheerful and treated our clients with dignity and respect. Esta will be sorely missed my all who knew her, especially her family. My condolences to Miggs & Tracy and their families. With fond memories, Darryl (Coates) Manning

  2. My prayers to the Burroughs family .. Miggs and Tracy. Every day in the Remarkable Book Shop was a learning day.

    Vivianne Pommier

  3. I am so sorry to hear about Esta’s passing. Westport has lost a great community member who contributed greatly for all the many years she lived here. My heartfelt sympathy to Miggs, Tracy and their loved ones.

  4. A beautiful woman, a wonderful life; and she left a great legacy in her sons, Miggs and Tracey. We will all treasure our memories of her and The Remarkable Book Shop.

  5. A Remarkable woman in so many ways. My heartfelt condolences to Miggs and Trace. I know how much you loved and cared for her.

  6. Miggs and Tracey, so sorry to hear about Esta’s passing. I admired her enormously, she was a very special lady.

  7. A truly remarkable lady. It was an honor to know her.

  8. Amazing Story… Condolences with a warm feeling!

  9. Beautiful Dan. Thank you. Don Bergmann

  10. So sorry Miggs and Tracey, Your mom was a light, smart, funny…no wonder you guys carry that on. Love.

  11. Miggs and Trace — you have our deepest condolences on the loss of the Remarkable woman. Bobbie and Paul

  12. Thomas Kretsch

    The passing of our beloved neighbor Esta brings a flood of memories to my wife and I. In 1974 through a stroke of luck we found ourselves the owner of a little four room house across the street from Esta and Bernie. Our houses were built by the same builder but theirs was a magic castle that became a benchmark of what a house should look like; all sorts of artistic sculptures in the yard around a small pool, old signs hanging on the side of the house, wonderful antiques and artwork, beautiful gardens and a real sense of home.. They were such wonderful neighbors to us; welcoming and helpful to two rather green house owners.Bernie was always puttering around the yard and loaned me tools when I needed them. We used to sit on our front porch on summer evenings and listen to the laughter of friends gathering by their pool.

    After Bernie passed away Esta kept her vigorous life going with her work at Remarkable and at Save the Children. With the white Honda Civic she would travel all about town staying active attending lectures, visiting friends and volunteering. When she got to the point where she couldn’t drive , she still had someone take her to places so she could be out, about and involved.

    In the last few years that she spent in her little house, alone and with live in help, we would try and stop by and chat and share some of the goodies Sandi made. She was always interested in our children, what we were doing and we shared time sitting by her fireplace, with books piled up around her with her beloved cat close by.

    We treasure some of the signs that were once hanging around their yard which she so generously gave us and now adorn our walls. Some Bernie made and others they found at tag sales. An etching Bernie had done of Albert Einstein was another gift she bestowed upon us which has a special place in our home.

    When her house was finally sold and in the process of being knocked down, I took a walk in the backyard. It was sad to see it had turned into a wild overgrown space but my memories of the beautiful yard and the magic touches they had given it were still entrenched in my mind.

    Thank you Esta for your kindness, neighborly ways, being a wonderful role model and fine friend. You were a special lady and our lives were made richer knowing you and being your neighbor for some forty years.

  13. Miggs Burroughs

    Thanks so much Dan. The response to you post has been nothing short of amazing. Miggs

    Sent from my iPhone while juggling a chain saw, bowling ball and a live hamster.


  14. Heather wilson

    I’m so sorry about the loss of such a dynamic soul. Thinking of you Miggs, so sad, but lots of happy memories!

  15. Loretta Santella Hallock

    Miggs and Tracey,
    So sorry to hear of your loss. Your Mom was a lovely lady. I have great memories living across the street from your family in the early seventies. Westport has lost another treasure.

  16. A life well lived, with curiosity, kindness and vigor, is an inspiration to us all. Heartfelt condolences to Miggs, Tracey and their families.
    Carol Land

  17. Audrey Doniger

    Miggs, terribly saddened by Estas’ passing…I loved her..she and Bernie wear one of the first couples we met 55years ago..she was my tennis buddy for many years and we spent lots of fun times together..Westport won’t be the same without her…Condolences and good thoughts of ” one of the good ones”…Audrey D

  18. Michael Calise

    Sorry for your loss Miggs. Your business card which you gave me recently with the lenticular photo of your Mom is amazing and a real treasure. It speaks volumes for your love of your Mom. I wish you and your family the best

  19. Thank you Dan …… I would never have known this fabulous story!

  20. It was a privilege to have ever had her in my life……Tracy and Miggs, I am sorry she’s not with you anymore.

  21. linda (pomerantz) novis

    Thanks for this beautiful story,Dan-you truly captured Esta’s ‘Remarkable’

  22. Dear Tracy and Miggs, I am so sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing. She was a wonderful woman and I believe you know that she hired me to work at Remarkable when I was 16. I enjoyed working with her and knowing her and remember her kindness. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.

  23. I don’t remember Esta specifically but I do remember how welcoming all the staff at Remarkable were to me and my three little girls. Not everyone in Westport welcomed us since we were black, but Remarkable did. My condolences to Miggs and the rest of the Burroughs family.