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.
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.
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.)